Archive for September, 2012

State of the River report examines Mississippi

September 27, 2012

The Friends of the Mississippi and the National Park Service have produced an in-depth review of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities area.

The report, issued Thursday, Sept. 27, examines the health and safety of the river’s water for the organisms that live in it and for the humans who drink it and swim and fish in it. The report describes the Mississippi as much cleaner than it was years ago, but still suffering from too much phosphorus, too much nitrogen and too much sediment.

It also describes a new danger: increasing concentrations of dioxins formed from triclosan, a chemical used in many anti-bacterial hand soaps, cosmetics and deodorants.

Read the 48-page State of the River report. Read a Star Tribune article about the report.

Sept. 28 deadline for Clean Water comment

September 27, 2012

Don’t miss registering your comments on the Minnesota Clean Water Council’s recommendations for how the Legislature should divide up $185 million for water projects and programs over the next two fiscal years.

The money comes from the Clean Water Fund, supported by the sales tax increase that Minnesota voters approved in a 2008 constitutional amendment.

You can comment on the spending any time until the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton agree on appropriations next spring. But Friday, Sept. 28, is the deadline the 19-member Clean Water Council set for public on-line comment on its still-tentative recommendations.

Examine the draft recommendations made by a council committee, and compare what the committee proposed spending vs. the spending sought by state agencies. Comment on those 64 recommendations and on budgeting principles in the council’s on-line survey. Read an earlier Freshwater blog posting about the opportunity for comment.

After you have made your comments, respond to this blog and tell us what you think the priorities should be for that $185 million.

Falling rivers, disappearing prairies, Girl Scouts

September 24, 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.

Girl Scout service project to protect water 
On Oct. 13, thousands of Girl Scouts in 49 counties in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin will celebrate the Girl Scouts’ centennial with a service project aimed at protecting lakes and rivers.

Some 36,000 girls, assisted by 18,000 adults, will clean up leaves, grass clipping and other debris from streets and storm sewer grates in their neighborhoods.

The project – the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service – is a Community Clean-Up for Water Quality. It is sponsored by 3M and was planned and organized by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys in partnership with the Freshwater Society and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley.

The goal is to prevent excess algae growth in lakes and river by eliminating the phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that result from the breakdown of organic matter and flow – untreated — through storm sewers to surface waters.

Learn more about the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service.

Minnesota streams near record lows 
The drought has pushed river levels in some parts of Minnesota to near record lows, forcing the state Department of Natural Resources to suspend water pumping permits for dozens of businesses and other users.

Falling river levels also have transformed many streams, including the Minnesota River, which is dramatically low near Mankato, with a daily flow of 265 cubic feet per second, about a third of what it should be this time of year.

At about 1 foot, the water level is the third-lowest on record. Normally the river might be 10 feet deep in spots, and the length of a football field or more across. But near downtown Mankato, the river is now more sand than stream.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Star Tribune documents loss of prairie lands
Read a fine Star Tribune article on the transformation of prairie lands in Minnesota and the Dakotas into corn and soybean fields. The piece was written by environmental reporter Josephine Marcotty.

IATP gets grant for Great Lakes work 
The U.S. Environmental Agency awarded a $150,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy for a project to reduce releases of toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes basin. This is one of three GLRI grants focused on pollution prevention that EPA is announcing during National Pollution Prevention Week.

“This EPA grant will be used to help businesses replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives and to prevent pollution in the Great Lakes basin,” said EPA Regional Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will use the grant to provide businesses that use toxic chemicals with “green chemistry” tools and information about safer alternatives. Workshops will be held for businesses throughout the Great Lakes region.
–EPA News Release

Cover crops needed after drought 
Drought-decimated corn crops are likely to leave residual nitrate in soils after harvest, making this year ideal for farmers to plant cover crops, says a Purdue Extension agronomist.

Cover crops can “scavenge” residual nitrate and recycle it through biomass. The process helps reduce nutrient loss through leaching and runoff, and makes some of those nutrients available for the next cash crop.

“This year is a great example of when a cover crop is needed to trap the much larger amount of residual nitrate that will be present after the poor corn crop,” said Eileen Kladivko, Purdue University professor of agronomy. “Farmers who lose residual nitrogen also are losing the opportunity to trap that nitrogen and keep it in their fields for subsequent crop use.”
–Pork Network

DNR to lease mineral rights
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is making plans to offer leases in October for metallic minerals exploration and mining in three northeast Minnesota counties.

Lease sale plans were published in the Environmental Quality Board Monitor and the State Register on Sept. 17. Notice of the intent to hold the sale was previously announced in July.

The leases under consideration are in Aitkin, St. Louis and Lake counties. The public lease sale will be held Oct. 24. Most of the potential tracts have been offered for lease multiple times in the past. Other tracts will be offered for the first time.

It is the state’s 33rd sale of mining leases since 1966. A list of properties offered for leasing can be reviewed by visiting the DNR website. Areas not considered for mineral exploration and mining leases are state parks, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other protected lands.
–DNR News Release

Kentucky coal company accepts pollution penalty 
One of Kentucky’s largest surface coal-mining companies has agreed to pay $575,000 in a case that involved thousands of alleged instances of fraudulent or improper water-pollution discharge reports.

International Coal Group, or ICG, has reached an agreement in principle with the state and environmental groups to settle claims against the company, according to a status report on the lawsuit the state Energy and Environmental Cabinet filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

The report said ICG would pay Eastern Kentucky PRIDE $335,000 to rid homes of illegal “straight pipe” sewage discharges, which have fouled water quality in some areas of Eastern Kentucky. ICG also will pay the state $240,000 to assess the impact of surface mining on waterways.
–The Lexington Herald Leader

It’s a twofer: Oct. 4 lectures on nitrogen and Farm Bill

September 24, 2012

Put a big circle around Thursday, Oct. 4, on your calendar.

Otto Doering

Otto Doering

Otto Doering, an agricultural economist from Purdue will present two important talks on that date at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Doering is coming to Minnesota to deliver a 7 p.m. lecture in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.  The lecture will be on the pollution of water and air by excess nitrogen.

Last year, Doering chaired a committee that wrote an important report on the problem of reactive – mostly human-created – nitrogen, and the difficult policy choices involved in any attempt to reduce the release of nitrogen from farm fertilizers and from the burning of fossil fuels.

His talk is titled Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.

Learn more about the lecture and register to attend. Read a q-and-a interview with Doering.  If you cannot attend the lecture in person, it will be available on live video.

While he is in Minnesota for the nitrogen lecture, Doering also will present a talk at 2 p.m. on the federal Farm Bill.  Doering has extensive background and expertise on Farm Bill legislation. His talk is titled Looking Back on the Coming Farm Bill: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.

Learn more about that free, public presentation.

U of M research aims to clean fracking fluid

September 17, 2012

A team of scientists from the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences has received a $600,000 grant to study the use of bacteria to clean waste water from the hydraulic fracturing – fracking – of gas and oil deposits.

The research team plans to use a process originally developed to remove agricultural pesticides from soil and water.

The goal is to take waste water contaminated by the addition of chemicals for the drilling process and clean it to the point it can be re-use in fracking of other wells and to significantly reduce the overall amount of water used by the drilling industry.

Read a university news release about the research.

Water, science and the environment

September 17, 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.

Hypoxia Task Force looks to reduce nitrogen
The drought has temporarily done this year what several state and federal programs have tried to do in terms of reducing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the fluctuating levels of hypoxia in the Gulf will surely rise next year if rains return to the Mississippi River basin.

The federal government’s Hypoxia Task Force met to continue its quest for long-term strategies for reducing nitrate loads in the Gulf by as much as 45%.

Success would appear frustratingly slow for the state-federal task force with numerous presentations Tuesday about the need to expand and coordinate water-quality monitoring, as well as better examine the value and economics of applying different practices on the land. Still, Chairwoman Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting administrator for water quality, stressed gains have been made for the task force, now in its 15th year.

“We’re picking up a lot of momentum but it takes awhile to make the kinds of changes we’re talking about,” Stoner said. “It will take some time to see some results but the first thing to do is to agree upon the approaches and changes to be made,” Stoner said.
–The Progressive Farmer

Don’t miss our Oct. 4 lecture on nitrogen
Register now to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the serious problem of nitrogen pollution of both water and air. Read q-and-a interview, conducted by Freshwater, with the lecturer, Purdue University agricultural economist Otto Doering.

Asian carp and the presidential race
President Obama has promised billions more dollars in aid and has cracked the whip on the US Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study on the great Great Lakes Asian carp.

Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama’s rival in the election, says the administration is moving too slowly. He has suggested that “America put a man on the moon” in less time than it’s taking to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of the big fish migrating up the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to broach Lake Michigan at Chicago.

Sure, encroaching carp aren’t in the league with jobs or foreign policy when it comes to national priorities. But the political debate over what to do about the disruptive Asian carp population also isn’t just about the ecology and hydrology of the world’s biggest freshwater system. It’s also about the 64 electoral votes locked up in four Great Lakes battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Army Corps completes Asian carp survey
A study of 18 canals, ditches and other waterways that could link the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds found none was a likely pathway to the lakes for Asian carp, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday, Sept. 14.

The study was part of a broader search for ways to stop the movement of invasive species between the two basins. Of particular concern are bighead and silver carp — ravenous Asian fish that scientists say could out-compete native species for food.

Asian carp infested the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and are approaching a Chicago-area shipping canal through which they might be able to reach Lake Michigan. Under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups, the Army Corps promised to produce options for blocking their passage by the end of next year.
–The Associated Press

DNR restricts withdrawals from low streams
The ongoing drought is forcing the Department of Natural Resources to restrict water use around Minnesota.

More than a dozen industrial and recreational sites have been required to suspend pumping from state waterways.
Levels have sharply declined in rivers and other surface waters as the drought continues. DNR water permits allow a variety of customers to pump water, but those permits also require cutbacks if water levels get too low.

That’s happening now, and recently the DNR suspended numerous water pumping permits. Most are for golf courses or other recreational locations.

“Last week we sent out 16 letters. And there was one in Hubbard County, Blue Earth, one in Martin, several in Polk, to surface water users. And they were told then to stop pumping water as of last Thursday midnight,” said Julie Ekman, DNR water regulations unit supervisor.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Isaac fails to loosen drought’s grip
More than three quarters of the contiguous United States still faces abnormally dry conditions in spite of scattered relief from rains generated by tropical storm system Isaac. As seen on the U.S. Drought Monitor, exceptional drought — the worst category — persists in the very center of the nation from Nebraska south to Texas, east through Missouri and Arkansas to the Mississippi Valley. Much of Georgia is also in exceptional drought.

Drought is the nation’s most costly natural disaster, far exceeding earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and floods. FEMA has estimated that the annual average cost of drought in the United States ranges from $6 to $8 billion. (By comparison, the annual costs of flooding are in the $2 to $4 billion range.) Unlike flooding, drought does not come and go in a single episode. Rather, it often takes a long time for drought to begin to impact an area, and it can fester for months or even years.
–USGS News Release

Journal looks at conservation, climate change
A special research section of the September/October issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, “Conservation practices to mitigate the effects of climate change,” offers a compilation of works that cover the most current advances in the science of conservation practices that may alleviate some of the effects associated with a changing climate.

Follett et al. discuss the effects of climate change on soil carbon and nitrogen storage in the U.S. Great Plains. Chen et al. evaluate a selection of maize inbred lines for drought and heat stress tolerance under field conditions and identify several inbred lines that showed high tolerance to drought. Brown and Huggins quantify agricultural impacts on soil organic carbon sequestration for dryland cropping systems in different agroclimatic zones of the Pacific Northwest.
–SWCS Conservation NewsBriefs

DNR does follow-up searches for invasives
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  biologists and divers searched lake bottoms immediately surrounding areas where zebra mussels were discovered last fall on boat lifts on Lake Irene in Douglas County and Rose Lake in Otter Tail County. The divers did not discover zebra mussels, but searches will continue later this fall when docks and boat lifts are pulled from the shores along these lakes.

“This is a good sign, but these are only preliminary inspections that will help us determine the overall outcome of our efforts,” said Nathan Olson, DNR invasive species specialist in Fergus Falls. “We have more field work to do this fall, sampling the waters for veligers and inspecting docks and boat lifts as folks remove them from these waters.”

Last fall, DNR biologists investigated two separate cases where localized zebra mussel populations were discovered on boat lifts. In one case, mussels were attached to rocks near the boat lift. Both boat lifts had been moved from infested waters to these lakes earlier in 2011.Due to the early detection of zebra mussels in these locations, the DNR immediately treated both areas with copper sulfate, a common chemical used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch. The treatments were conducted by a icensed aquatic pesticide contractor. The searches conducted recently were part of a follow-up plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the early detection and rapid response.
–DNR News Release

Canadian mining firm admits pollution
Canadian mining giant Teck Resources Ltd. has admitted in a U.S. court that effluent from its smelter in southeast British Columbia has polluted the Columbia River in Washington for more than a century.

Teck subsidiary Teck Metals made the admission of fact in a lawsuit brought by a group of U.S. Indian tribes over environmental damage caused by the effluent discharges dating back to 1896.

The agreement, reached on the eve of the trial initiated by the Colville Confederated Tribes, stipulates that some hazardous materials in the slag discharged from Teck’s smelter in Trail, B.C., ended up in the Upper Columbia River south of the border.
–The Canadian Press

Freshwater blog named one of 50 best

September 17, 2012

We’re in good company. Seametrics Inc., a Seattle manufacturer of water measuring devices, has named the Freshwater Society’s blog to a list of the 50 best nonprofit, water-related blogs in the country. View the list.

If you don’t already subscribe to get this blog every week, go to the top, right of the blog and click on “Subscribe to this blog.” Choose to have it sent to your email in-basket every time it is posted.

If you find the blog useful in your work, respond and tell us how you use it.




California’s Salton Sea spawns fetid odor

September 12, 2012

What happens when you get too many nutrients and too little oxygen in a lake? Read a Los Angeles Times article about the “epic stink” from the Salton Sea that assaulted the noses of Southern Californians.  Listen to a National Public Radio report on the same wave of rotten-egg odor.

Water, science and the environment

September 10, 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.

Register now to attend Oct. 4 lecture on nitrogen pollution
Food production – the vast gains achieved over the last century, and the still-greater gains needed to feed a growing world population — is dependent on the availability of nitrogen in a chemical form that food grains and other plants can readily use.

Sources of reactive nitrogen

Millions of metric tons of reactive nitrogen entering the U.S. environment each year. Source: Reactive Nitrogen in the United States…A report to the EPA Science Advisory Board.

Paradoxically, the synthetic manufacture and application of nitrogen fertilizer causes significant water and air pollution. Burning fossil fuels releases the same form of nitrogen and causes the same problems for the environment and human health.

A 2011 report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said:

“Excess reactive nitrogen compounds in the environment are associated with many large-scale environmental concerns, including eutrophication of surface waters, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain, nitrogen saturation in forests, and global warming. In addition, reactive nitrogen is associated with harmful human health effects caused by air pollution and drinking water contamination.”

On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences will sponsor a free public lecture on the excess nitrogen issue.

Otto Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist who chaired the committee of scientists that wrote the 2011 report to the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee, will deliver the lecture. His talk is titled Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.

Register to attend the lecture. Read a q-and-a interview that Freshwater conducted with Doering. Read a PDF of the 140-page report from the EPA committee he led.

Save the dates: Public meetings on the environment set
Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 14, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board will hold six meetings around the state to seek comment from citizens on the environment, environmental review and the state’s economy.

In an executive order last November, Gov. Mark Dayton directed the EQB to “evaluate and make recommendations for improved environmental governance and coordination.” Dayton also directed the EQB to prepare an “environmental and energy report card” examining the state’s performance and progress on protecting air, water and land.

In February, the EQB is planning to host an Environmental Congress that will examine that report card and recommend future policy.

As part of that whole process, the EQB has scheduled public-comment sessions in Rochester, Bloomington, Duluth, Worthington, St. Cloud and Moorhead. Learn more about the process and get the schedule of the meetings.

Plant life returns to fire-ravaged area of BWCA
A year ago the Pagami Creek fire roared across a trail to the canoe landing at Isabella Lake, an entry point on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, as 40 mph wind gusts drove the blaze an unprecedented 10 miles in one day.

Last summer’s fire scorched 145 square miles of forest, mostly in the Boundary Waters area. In the fall, the burn area was filled with charcoal-black trees and soil, but tiny blades of grass had started to poke through the ash.

Today, the trees still stand like black pipes, their exposed roots clawing the ground. But the forest floor is lush and colorful, with moose maple and wild sarsaparilla.

Despite a striking amount of new growth, forest managers have major concerns, among them a huge loss of organic matter and the presence of invasive plants that already are taking root.
–Minnesota Public Radio

An iconic valley, a historic dam, a looming vote
It is one of the oldest environmental battles in the United States, and it involves one of the country’s most famous national parks, one of its most liberal cities, leaders of Silicon Valley and a perennial source of conflict in California: water.

In 1913, Congress approved the construction of a dam and an eight-mile-long reservoir, called Hetch Hetchy, in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park to supply cheap water to San Francisco.

But the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which submerged a valley that many have likened to Yosemite Valley in its grandeur and is credited with giving birth to the modern environmental movement, has lost none of its power to arouse strong emotions.
In November, San Francisco will vote on a measure that could ultimately lead to the draining and restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley — and force the city to look elsewhere for most of its water.
–The New York Times

U.S., Canada renew Great Lakes pact
The U.S. and Canada renewed a 40-year-old Great Lakes environmental pact, pledging stepped-up efforts to reduce pollution, cleanse contaminated sites and prevent exotic species invasions.

The updated Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement binds both nations to continue a cleanup and restoration initiative begun when the freshwater seas were a symbol of ecological decay. Many of their beaches were littered with foul algae blooms and dead fish. The Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie in Cleveland, was so choked with oil and chemicals that flames erupted on its surface in 1969.

The pact calls for further action on problems that inspired the original agreement three years after the embarrassing river fire and a second version in 1987. It pledges to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity” of the five lakes and the portion of the St. Lawrence River on the U.S.-Canadian border.
–The Associated Press

California groups sue to stop Mojave project
Four environmental groups filed a lawsuit  against San Bernardino County and an Orange County water district to challenge a controversial groundwater mining project in the Mojave Desert.

The crux of the lawsuit is the question of which agency should serve as lead on the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which would pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater per year from ancient aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society contend the county should have led the environmental review of the project, not the Santa Margarita Water District in Mission Viejo, which has signed on as a future buyer of the water from Cadiz Inc.
–The Riverside Press-Enterprise

Take a shot at spending $185 million on clean water

September 6, 2012

If you had $185 million to spend protecting  and cleaning up Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and groundwater, how would you spend it?

What projects and what state agencies would you decide are worthy of taxpayer dollars? Which would you conclude are low-priority projects that maybe the state can do without?

Here’s your chance to take a stab at answering those kinds of questions.

The Clean Water Council, a 19-member group that advises the Minnesota governor and Legislature on water issues, is seeking public comment on an overall framework of budget priorities and on 64 draft funding recommendations.

This is where you and your opinions and priorities come in. Examine the draft recommendations made by a council committee, and compare what the committee proposed spending vs. the spending sought by state agencies. Comment on those 64 recommendations and on budgeting principles in the council’s on-line survey.

The council faces a Dec. 1 deadline for completing its recommendations for the expenditure of $185 million in expected sales tax revenue over the next two fiscal years.

Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers are not obliged to follow the Clean Water Council’s recommendations in appropriation decisions next year, but in the past they have given a lot of deference to the recommendations.

The $185 million represents 33 percent of the projected two-year proceeds from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment that Minnesota voters approved in 2008.

Just over two-thirds of the sales tax receipts is subject to separate sets of recommendations, and will be is split between fish and wildlife habitat, parks and trails, and arts and culture.

The Clean Water Council’s request for public comment  is intended to add some citizen input to a budgeting process driven by the Clean Water Council and by the state agencies the council recommended receive the money. The agencies are: Pollution Control, Natural Resources,  Agriculture, Health, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Minnesota  Public Facilities Authority, the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota.

Together, those agencies sought $210 million over two years. So far, the Clean Water Council’s Budget and Outcomes Committee has recommended $191 million. The committee and the full council are expected to refine and reduce that total in meetings in September, October and November.

After you have reviewed the spending and given your input to the Clean Water Council, respond to this blog and tell us what you like about the recomendations and which ones you would change.