Archive for October, 2012

Free-market think tank backs conservation compliance

October 31, 2012

Read a free-market think tank’s argument for requiring conservation compliance in any expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance.

Enacting a conservation compliance provision in the now-stalled federal Farm Bill would require farmers receiving crop insurance to follow certain minimum conservation standards aimed at protecting wetlands and reduce erosion.

Those compliance provisions were required for farmers receiving direct-payment subsidies under the farm bill that expired Sept. 30, but they were not a requirement for participation in crop insurance.

Direct payments are virtually certain to be eliminated, probably in favor of an expansion of crop insurance, in the new Farm Bill that Congress is expected to enact later this year or in 2013.

The version of a new Farm Bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June included a conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance eligibility. The version approved by a House committee in July did not.

The R Street Institute, a Washington-based non-profit think tank that says it espouses free markets, limited government and responsible environmental stewardship, last month issued a policy statement supporting a conservation compliance requirement.

The policy statement argues that all farm subsidies should be eliminated, but says that is not politically realistic and that enactment of a conservation compliance provision is a “second best” outcome.

Read a 2011 newsletter column by Gene Merriam, Freshwater Society president,  supporting conservation compliance. View video from a 2011 Freshwater lecture in which Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working group advocated conservation compliance.  Read an October Des Moines Register interview with U. S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in which Vilsack predicted Congress will not pass a conservation compliance provision.

Chemical fails to kill zebra mussels in 2 lakes

October 24, 2012

Efforts by the Minnesota DNR to stem two budding zebra mussel infestations through chemical means have yielded – at best — mixed results.

The DNR used copper sulfate to treat two lakes – Rose and Irene – in Otter Tail and Douglas counties last fall after a few immature zebra mussels were found in the lakes.

The good news: Inspections of the lake this summer did not turn up evidence of larval zebra mussels known as veligers. That would have been proof zebra mussels were reproducing in the lakes.

The bad news: Inspections this fall found adult zebra mussels, proof the copper sulfate did not eradicate the zebra mussel population.

Read the DNR’s news release on the effort. Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the findings.

Deadly quake, climate change, plastic jeans

October 22, 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.

Groundwater pumping may have spurred deadly quake
Farmers drilling ever deeper wells over decades to water their crops likely contributed to a deadly earthquake in southern Spain last year, a new study suggests. The findings may add to concerns about the effects of new energy extraction and waste disposal technologies.

Nine people died and nearly 300 were injured when an unusually shallow magnitude-5.1 quake hit the town of Lorca on May 11, 2011. It was the country’s worst quake in more than 50 years, causing millions of euros in damage to a region with an already fragile economy.

Using satellite images, scientists from Canada, Italy and Spain found the quake ruptured a fault running near a basin that had been weakened by 50 years of groundwater extraction in the area.

During this period, the water table dropped by 250 meters (274 yards) as farmers bored ever deeper wells to help produce the fruit, vegetables and meat that are exported from Lorca to the rest of Europe. In other words, the industry that propped up the local economy in southern Spain may have undermined the very ground on which Lorca is built.

The researchers noted that even without the strain caused by water extraction, a quake would likely have occurred at some point.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Some scientists seeing climate-weather link
The worst drought in half a century has plagued two-thirds of the nation, devastating farms and stoking wildfires that scorched almost 9 million acres this year. Withering heat blanketed the East Coast and Midwest, killing scores of people and making July the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S. And in the Arctic this summer, polar snow and ice melted away to the smallest size ever observed by man.

Extreme events like drought, heat waves, intense rainfall, flooding and fires have prompted many people to reconsider the connection between the weather and the changing climate. Now, a handful of scientists are among them.

In a break with the mainstream scientific consensus, a few prominent climate scientists now argue that there have been enough episodes of drought and intense heat in the last 10 years to establish a statistical pattern of extreme weather due to global warming.
–The Los Angeles Times

Sugar beet co-op fined for pollution
Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., has taken corrective actions and paid a $70,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency following an investigation into a complaint of smelly, polluted waters in the Rabbit River watershed drainage system.

In May 2011, the MPCA received a complaint of polluted water in drainage areas that flow to the Rabbit River in Wilkin County. Inspections by agency staff determined that pollution in the drainage system originated from Minn-Dak’s Lyngass, Yaggie and Hawes sugar beet storage locations. Discharges to the drainage system resulted from polluted runoff discharges from the storage sites.

The cooperative was cited for these discharges as well as for failing to immediately report them and take immediate steps to mitigate their impact.

In addition, MPCA staff found that regular inspections designed to help identify and-or correct potential stormwater runoff problems were not conducted in accordance with the company’s permit requirements; that errors were made in calculating, implementing and reporting the land application of waste beets; and that material errors were made in inspection reports and that reports failed to include sugar beet juice discharges during fall 2010.
–MPCA News Release

Ken Burns offers Dust Bowl lessons in conservation
Check out a National Wildlife Fund blog posting about a new Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl, that will be broadcast Nov. 18 on PBS. It offers lessons on conservation we should take to heart.

Environment missing from political conversation
Read a fine column by the Star Tribune’s Dennis Anderson on the almost total absence of any discussion of the environment from today’s political debate.

Clean Water Council gets input on spending
Check out 179 pages of comments from 110 individuals and groups who offered suggestions to the Minnesota Clean Water Council on how the state should spend $185 million over the next two years to protect and clean up lakes, rivers and aquifers.

Recycle some bottles into your Levi’s
Most apparel companies work hard to give their clothes the sheen of sophistication or whimsy. Levi Strauss is trying hard not to.

When its latest line of jeans arrives in stores early next year, the pitch will be: “These jeans are made of garbage.” Crushed brown and green plastic bottles will be on display nearby. Eight of those are blended into each pair of Levi’s new WasteLess jeans, which are composed of at least 20 percent recycled plastic.

The WasteLess denim collection is part of a bigger push to reduce Levi’s environmental impact throughout the entire process of making jeans.

“We want to build sustainability into everything we do,” said Michael Kobori, the vice president of supply chain social and environmental sustainability.

Resource scarcity and increasingly volatile prices for cotton make this a necessity more than a choice. Plus outside groups are putting pressure on big consumer companies such as Levi’s to be stewards of the environment.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Illinois plans $1 billion for infrastructure
Gov. Pat Quinn launched a $1 billion initiative to upgrade sewer lines, water mains and water treatment plants across Illinois, some of them badly eroded after more than 100 years of service.

Timing the announcement to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, Quinn described his administration’s Clean Water Initiative as a jobs-creating effort to pull Illinois up from the nation’s lower rungs in terms of water safety.
–The Chicago Tribune

Fracking, conservation and Asian carp

October 18, 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.

Does fracking contaminate water?
Read a good q-and-a discussion of allegations that hydraulic fracturing of deep rock formations by gas and oil drilling operations contaminates groundwater. The review in the journal Nature focuses on a site in Wyoming where the EPA last year said it found evidence of contamination. Read a Bloomberg article on a recent EPA report concluding that its latest round of tests on Wyoming wells showed results consistent with previous findings that fracking probably caused groundwater contamination. Read the EPA report released Oct. 10.

Minnesota DNR calls for water conservation
Drought conditions are straining Minnesota’s water resources. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging everyone to adopt water conservation measures.

“Water is essential to our economy, our natural resources, and our quality of life,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “We are in the second year of a drought, and it is time for all of us to take water conservation more seriously.”

DNR is asking agricultural, commercial and industrial water users to stop outdoor irrigation and to implement conservation measures. Everyone who holds a DNR permit for water appropriation should review and abide by their permit conditions and begin conserving water as soon as possible.

“The drought conditions are sobering and call for a collaborative response,” Landwehr said. “At a time that per capita water consumption is decreasing nationwide, Minnesota’s water use per resident is actually increasing. We will need to work together to meet these challenges.”

Public water suppliers have been contacted by the DNR and reminded to implement appropriate conservation measures contained in their water supply plans. These could include water audits, leak detection, and promoting water conservation to their customers.
–DNR News Release

Howard Buffett calls for conservation compliance 
Farmer-philanthropist Howard Buffett said that stronger government action is needed to encourage farmers into compliance with better fertilizer, tillage and other conservation and environmental practices.

“We have a whole culture based on yield,” said Buffett, 55, who owns farmland in his native Nebraska, Illinois and Arizona as well as South Africa. One of several issues that caused a stalemate in this year’s farm bill discussions in Congress was over making conservation compliance a requirement for eligibility for federal crop insurance.

“Government has the biggest club, and if it doesn’t use it, there will be less good conservation practices,” Buffett said. Buffett, son of Omaha financier Warren Buffett, has emerged as a force in world agriculture through his foundation, which finances experimental work in Africa and other countries.
–The Des Moines Register

DNA suggests Carp have passed barrier to L. Michigan 
Even as Michigan lawmakers lambaste the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not moving fast enough to develop a permanent plan to stop Asian carp from swimming up the Chicago canal system and into Lake Michigan, genetic evidence that the fish are on the march continues to grow.

Tthe Army Corps announced it would send fishing crews onto the North Shore Channel of the Chicago River. The agency also will fish for Asian carp on a six-mile stretch of river in downtown Chicago.

The announcement was triggered after three separate sampling trips on the waterway showed DNA evidence of silver carp, which can be shed from a live fish from things such as mucus and feces.

The agency also announced that 17 of 57 samples taken on just one trip last month on the Chicago River near downtown tested positive for silver carp. Crews will be on the river  with electro-fishing boats and other sampling tools to chase the elusive fish.

The Army Corps maintains that a positive sample does not necessarily mean the presence of live fish. Officials note it could get in the water by some other means, such as barge bilge water, bird droppings or even the toilet flush of someone who happened to eat Asian carp for lunch.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

EPA funds Lake Superior mercury research
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a $1.4 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to the Minnesota Department of Health to reduce mercury exposure risk for women and children who live along Lake Superior’s north shore. Excessive blood mercury levels have been documented in infants in this area. The funding will be used to improve health screening and to develop more effective fish consumption advisories.

The Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinics in Grand Portage and Grand Marais, Minn., will participate in the project. Physicians affiliated with the clinics will survey consenting female patients of childbearing age about fish consumption and test blood mercury levels. Patients will also be counseled to promote safe fish consumption choices.

The work supported by the grant will build on an earlier EPA-funded study which was completed last year by MDH. In that study, 1,465 newborns in the Lake Superior Basin – including 139 infants from Wisconsin and 200 from Michigan – were tested for mercury in their blood. The study found that 8 percent of the infants had mercury levels higher than those recommended as safe by EPA.
–EPA News Release

UM seeks ‘greener’ lawns
Advocates of sustainability have often demonized lawn care for squandering water, adding fertilizers and herbicides to the environment, and increasing our carbon footprint through gas-powered mowing. But a new research project from the University of Minnesota could make both environmentalists and homeowners happier in the future.

Funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 5-year project is part of a national research effort aimed at improving specialty crops. Researchers will be investigating ways to develop turf grasses that require less water and mowing, and that stay green without extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers.
–The Line

Celebrate, take note of Clean Water Act

October 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.

Celebrate 40 years of — gradually — cleaner water
The federal Clean Water Act, actually a package of amendments to existing water law, was enacted 40 years ago this month. View a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency video featuring former Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar.  In late 1971 while on the staff of his Congressional predecessor, John Blatnik, Oberstar was Administrator to the House Committee on Public Works. As the lead staff representative on that committee, Oberstar played a key role in writing what is today considered landmark legislation. View video of a June  2012 Freshwater Society lecture on the Clean Water Act – past, present and future – by G. Tracy Mehan III, a former top water-quality executive in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Girl Scouts work for water on Oct. 13
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. Learn more about Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality and how you can organize one.

Spend an evening with others who care about water
Learn how you can protect the waters around you Do you care deeply about the water quality in a lake or stream near where you live? Are you wondering what you, as an individual or as a member of a lake association or community group, can do to slow or stop the advance of invasive species?

This event – the sixth annual Watershed Association Initiative – is for you.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed Association will sponsor a dinner, speakers and networking opportunities for residents of the watershed district and any other people interested in protecting and restoring metropolitan lakes and streams.

The summit will be from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 233 of the Eisenhower Community Center, 1001 Highway 7 in Hopkins. Alex Gehrig of the Freshwater Society is organizing the event. There is a $10 charge for admission and dinner. Learn more about the event and register to attend. View the agenda.

DNR seeks people to work on aquatic invasives
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking applications from stakeholders who are interested in serving on a statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee.

People who are concerned about aquatic invasive species and have the ability to commit to reviewing reports, preparing comments, and participating in six to eight meetings a year are encouraged to apply. Applications are due by Oct. 19.

The DNR AIS Advisory Committee will be comprised of 15 stakeholders appointed by the commissioner. The first set of appointees will be asked to serve either two- or three-year terms in order to stagger appointments. Eventually, committee members will serve three-year terms.

The DNR commissioner determines all appointments. Appointees may request mileage reimbursement, but they are not paid a salary and are not eligible for per diem payments. They must abide by requirements pertaining to potential conflicts of interest.

Advisory committee work can be a significant time commitment. Applicants should be prepared to make a two- to three-year commitment.

Applications will be accepted online. Data provided for the oversight committee application is classified as public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. For more information, contact Ann Pierce at 651-259-5119 or, or Jim Japs, 651-259-5656 or
–DNR News Release

Two Otto Doering talks on video
If you missed Otto Doering’s Oct. 4 Freshwater Society lecture on the environmental and human health problems caused by excess human-made nitrogen, you can still see and hear his lecture on video.

You can also view video of a primer on the U.S. Farm Bill – from the 1930s to the present – that Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist, delivered in a seminar sponsored by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

More sustainable water use in India
Read a good New York Times op-ed column by Cheryl Colopy on India’s water problems and efforts by some Indians to return to more sustainable farming practices in which monsoon rains are captured in small ponds to recharge groundwater. Colopy is the author of Dirty, Sacred Rivers: Confronting South Asia’s Water Crisis.

Land use, zebra mussels, chemicals in our water

October 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.

UM to study Minnesota Valley land use
The University of Minnesota  has received a $4.3 million Water Sustainability and Climate grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to lead a study on the interactions between climate, water and land-use systems in the Minnesota River Basin.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the lead institution for this grant that involves researchers from institutions across the country such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, Utah State University, University of Washington, Iowa State University, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The researchers will develop a framework for identifying and predicting processes, locations and times that are most susceptible to accelerated change. This framework is envisioned to guide decision and policy making toward a healthy and resilient environment.
The research team chose the Minnesota River Basin as a location for the  research because it encompasses an extremely broad spectrum of natural and human-induced rates of change and sensitivity to land-use practices.

“This grant brings together some of the top scientists and engineers from across the country to study one of the most important issues of our time—water sustainability under climate and human stressors,” said Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and lead researcher on the grant.
–University of Minnesota News Release

N.D. man ticketed for zebra mussels
Minnesota Conservation Officers Kipp Duncan and Jen Muller pulled into a parking lot in Two Harbors recently and couldn’t believe what they saw — a shopping cart covered with zebra mussels resting in the back of a pickup truck.

“They covered the entire outline of the cart,” Duncan said. “It was pretty amazing to look at. I’ve never seen anything with that many zebra mussels on it.”

The man driving the truck, Bruce A. Hinsverk, 51, of Wahpeton, N.D., told the officers he was on vacation and saw the shopping cart next to two Dumpsters on the Duluth waterfront. He planned to drive up the North Shore to Grand Marais before returning to North Dakota with the shopping cart.

Hinsverk apparently thought it would be cool to have the cart on display at his hair salon, Muller said. What Muller said Hinsverk didn’t know is that it’s against Minnesota law to transport or possess even one zebra mussel or other invasive species, let alone thousands of them.

Hinsverk was cited for unlawfully possessing or transporting a prohibited invasive species and given instructions on how to appeal the charge or pay the $500 fine.
–Duluth News Tribune

Sip of Science focuses on invasives
Mark A. Davis, chair of the biology department at Macalester College will be the guest speaker for an Oct. 10 Sip of Science happy hour.

Davis, who has questioned the value of trying to prevent the spread of invasive species, is the author of a book, Invasion Biology and he wrote and was co-author of the influential essay “Don’t Judge Species on their Origins,” published in Nature in 2011. He has appeared on National Public Radio’s Science Friday.

A Sip of Science is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota. It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer. Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems.

The event will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main Street – St. Anthony Main – in Minneapolis.

Swackhamer talks about chemicals in water
Did you know that the U.S. regulates the use of only about 400 of the estimated 60,000 chemicals manufactured and used in this country? And did you know that the U.S. Geological Survey recently found fish with characteristics of “intersex,” the combination of male and female tissue, at 31 percent of the sites that the survey tested. Learn more about chemistry, water quality and the threat to fish, wildlife and – potentially – to humans posed by chemicals that
pass through waste treatment plants and into rivers. View a 13-minute TEDxUMN talk by Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.

Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary
The package of amendments to federal law that became known as the Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress over President Richard Nixon’s veto on Oct. 18, 1972.  Read a Minnesota Pollution Control essay looking at the law and improvements in Minnesota waters over the 40 years since its enactment.

List of polluted waters grows
Minnesota has just added to its official list of polluted lakes and rivers.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent to the Environmental Protection Agency a draft list of 3,642 polluted – the official terminology is “impaired” – lakes, wetlands and sections of rivers and streams. Of those, 511 are new to the list since two years ago. Thirteen water bodies came off the list, some because they were cleaned up, most for technical reasons.

Read the MPCA news release on the listings. Read a Star Tribune article focusing on some good news: Significant improvement  that took Powderhorn Lake in Minneapolis off the list this year. Learn more about the list and seek the water bodies designated as polluted..

White Bear Lake nears record low

October 2, 2012

White Bear Lake’s water level is hovering just above the lake’s record low point, exposing acres of sand once covered by shallow water.

Read an Oct. 1 Star Tribune article about the problem, the municipal pumping that the U.S. Geological Survey thinks is a major cause, and some of the proposals for filling the lake again. Read a June Freshwater newsletter article about the issue.