Water, science and the environment

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

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