Archive for November, 2012

DNR sued over White Bear Lake drop

November 28, 2012
Dry land where White Bear Lake shallows used to be

Dry land replaces White Bear Lake shallows

A new lawsuit accuses the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of failing to properly regulate groundwater pumping by a number of communities ringing White Bear Lake.

The suit, filed in Ramsey County District Court by an organization representing White Bear residents and businesses, comes as the lake has reached an all-time record low level.

A U.S. Geological Survey study concluded water from the lake is flowing into a groundwater aquifer beneath the lake, and the study blamed increased municipal pumping from the aquifer for much of the loss.

Read the lawsuit. Read Pioneer Press, Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reports on the litigation. Read an extensive report on the USGS research published in June 2012 by the Freshwater Society.

Bighead carp netted in Lake Pepin

November 26, 2012

A 47-pound bighead carp was caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen on Nov. 16, in Lake Pepin near Frontenac,  the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced on Nov. 21.

DNR file photo shows DNR supervisor Brad Parsons with a bighead carp from an earlier catch.

Bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

While other adult bighead carp have been found in Lake Pepin and the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, this was the largest individual carp caught to date.

“This recent find is not surprising, as bighead carp were also found in Lake Pepin in 2003 and 2007,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River team at Lake City. “It adds more evidence that Asian carp continue to work their way up the Mississippi River.”

This recent catch fits the pattern of occasional adult Asian carp captures from the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers over the past 15 years. Individual bighead carp were caught in the St. Croix River in 1996, 2011, and 2012, and four silver carp were caught from the Mississippi River between Winona and La Crosse since 2008. Read the full DNR news release.
–DNR News Release

A report card and good news on the Minnesota R.

November 21, 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.

Minnesota environment gets a report card
Walleye and cisco populations are down. Lake trout and brown trout are up. Over the last decade, a fourth of the Minnesota lakes and streams tested for water clarity have gotten better. Nine percent of those water bodies are murkier than they were 10 years ago.

And, even as scientists get around to testing more and more of the state’s surface waters, the share of them that remain too polluted for fishing and swimming or too polluted to support healthy aquatic life remains stubbornly high: 40 percent.

Those are some of the facts in a draft Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card presented to the Environmental Quality Board. Read the draft report card, which was commissioned by Gov. Mark Dayton. Learn more about the report card and a series of public meetings around the state being held to solicit citizen comments on the report. The meetings begin Nov. 27 in Rochester.

Forum set Dec. 13 on Red River, Lake Winnipeg
Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba receives water draining from four Canadian provinces and for U.S. states, including Minnesota. The lake – the world’s 10th largest – faces serious environmental challenges. Those challenges include algal blooms and depleted oxygen levels resulting from farm fertilizers and other nutrients, invasive species competing with native plants and animals, contamination by new or newly worrisome chemicals of many kinds and the effects of climate change.

Minnesota water bodies in the Red River Basin, including the north-flowing Red River, face the same challenges.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Consulate General of Canada will sponsor a free, public forum on the threats facing all those waters and on the work being done – and still needing to be done – to protect them.

The forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is intended for scientists, teachers, students, policy-makers, public officials and anyone interested in learning about the health of the Red River Basin and the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.

The forum, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Learn more and register. Get directions to the Humphrey Institute.

Phosphorus pollution drops in Minnesota River
Water quality in the last 20 miles of the Minnesota River has improved markedly over the last decade, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced. The improvement in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, a key indicator of the river’s ability to support plant, fish and other organisms, is largely the result of tens of millions of dollars spent to reduce phosphorus discharged into the river by sewage treatment plants. Read Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reports on the MPCA’s announcement of the results of a new round of tests on the river.  Read a Pioneer Press op-ed column by MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine on the new phosphorus results for the river

U of M provides tool for estimating water’s value
If you’ve eaten fish, gone for a boat ride or even taken a drink from the tap, you know clean water is a valuable commodity. But just how valuable? That’s always been a tough question for policy makers to answer as they weigh the worth of clean water against societal needs that compromise it, such as the need to grow food or produce fossil fuels.

Now, however, their ability to do so has been greatly enhanced by a new policy-making framework developed by a team of scientists led by Bonnie Keeler, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The framework, published in the Nov. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a tool for assessing and valuing the many services clean water provides –  from recreation and beauty to navigation and hydropower – and incorporating them into policy decisions.

“After repeated requests for information on the value of water quality, we realized that there was a huge gap between the demand for economic values of water quality and our ability to provide tools to estimate those values. This gap limits our ability to make informed decisions,” Keeler said. “We provide a framework that describes the numerous pathways in which changes in water quality affect our health, recreation and livelihoods and the economic value of those changes. This yields a far more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of decisions.”
–University of Minnesota News Release

EPA criticizes Iowa on livestock pollution
In a draft report, the federal EPA accuses the Iowa Department of Natural Resources of going too easy on livestock feedlots that pollute waters. The EPA said it might step in and take over from the state the responsibility for enforcing the federal Clean Water Act. Read a Des Moines Register report on the EPA’s findings.

Both sides sue over Chesapeake Bay plan

November 12, 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.

Suits challenge Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan
Read a good Washinton Post update on the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to force states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed  to enact major pollution-reduction changes as part of a Total Maximum Daily Load  plan. The Post article by Darryl Fears focuses on the litigation – from both  left and the right – challenging the EPA plan.

Several environmental groups recently filed suit, alleging that the EPA could not adequately monitor a pollution-credit trading program aimed at reducing agriculture fertilizers flowing into the bay. The plan also is being challenged by the Farm Bureau Federation  and the National Association of Home Builders. That litigation alleges only the states, not the EPA, have authority to require pollution reductions.

Presentations available from Metro Water Summit
About 70 people – representatives of lake and creek groups, citizens, business owners, and water resource professionals — packed into a conference room Nov. 7 at the Eisenhower Community Center in Hopkins to hear about and discuss the latest important water resource issues and to network with like-minded folks. The event, the Metro Water Summit, was sponsored by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and organized by the Freshwater Society.

View slides from three presentations.

Groundwater clean-up costs are huge
The prestigious National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Science, has tried to put a number on the cost of cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the U.S., and it’s a big number. The council, in a new report, estimates it would cost more than $110 billion to clean up 126,000 contaminated sites. Read the report.

Wisconsin court weighs groundwater case
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials say a court decision could determine ways in which it can regulate groundwater usage affecting streams such as the Little Plover River.

But DNR officials say they don’t plan to wait for that to find solutions.

Water scientists say the river is drying up because farmers and other users of high-capacity wells in the area are drawing too much water from the river.
–The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Urban runoff costly for California cities
Cities in Los Angeles County face spending billions of dollars to clean up the dirty urban runoff that washes pollution into drains and coastal waters under storm water regulations approved by the regional water board.

Despite more than two decades of regulation, runoff remains the leading cause of water pollution in Southern California, prompting beach closures and bans on eating fish caught in Santa Monica Bay.

The runoff — whether from heavy winter rains or sprinkler water spilling down the gutter — is tainted by a host of contaminants from thousands of different places: bacteria from pet waste, copper from auto brake pads, toxics from industrial areas, pesticides and fertilizer from lawns.

“Municipal wastewater treatment has made incredible strides over the past 20 or 30 years, and other sources of pollution have been well controlled,” said John Kemmerer, regional associate water director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Clean Water Act. “It really comes down now to urban runoff.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Shell, Sunoco to pay New Hampshire $35 million
New Hampshire reached a $35 million settlement with Shell Oil Co. and Sunoco Inc. of a lawsuit over claims that the gasoline refiners and manufacturers used chemicals that contaminated groundwater.

The state sued a number of oil companies in 2003, charging that they knew the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) would pollute water supplies, state Attorney General Michael Delaney said in a statement.

“My office will continue to hold oil companies responsible for their role in causing groundwater contamination in this state,” Delaney said. “This is a substantial recovery that will be used to clean up contaminated groundwaters throughout New Hampshire.”

A trial against the other remaining defendants, which include Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), ConocoPhillips (COP), Irving Oil Ltd., Citgo Petroleum Corp. and Vitol SA, is set to begin in Concord, New Hampshire, in January. It may last three to four months.
–Bloomberg

Scientists model road salt’s effects on concrete
Swedish scientists have studied models to help road and bridge maintenance engineers work out how much damage salting the roads in winter might cause to steel-reinforced concrete structures.

As the winter draws in, road safety becomes paramount especially in northern climes where icy roads are a perennial problem for motorists. Gritting and salting the roads can help reduce road traffic accidents but the use of salt, which contains chloride, comes at a price. Corrosive chloride ions can penetrate into porous concrete and reach the metal reinforcements within, leading to corrosion after months or years of use.

Luping Tang of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, Sweden and his colleague Dr Anders Lindvall of the Central Laboratory, at Thomas Concrete Group AB also in Gothenburg, have looked at the effects of exposure to road salt de-icing over a 10 year and a 25-30 year service period in computer simulations of chloride ingress into concrete structures. The models simulate heavy traffic moving at speed over such structures.

Writing in the International Journal of Structural Engineering, the team explains that, “Chloride induced corrosion of reinforcement in concrete is still one of the main concerns regarding durability and service life of reinforced concrete structures.
–Science Daily

GMO labeling rejected in California
A measure that would have required most foods made with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled in California lost early Wednesday (Nov. 6).

Supporters of Proposition 37 said consumers have a right to know whether food has been genetically altered, particularly when the long-term health impacts are unclear. Opponents argued that the labels would stigmatize foods that are scientifically proven to be safe.

With 100 percent the precincts reporting, voters rejected the proposed labeling law by six percentage points. California would have been the first state in the nation to pass such an initiative.

“We said from the beginning that the more voters learned about Prop. 37, the less they would like it,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the opposition. “We didn’t think they would like the lawsuits, more bureaucracy, higher costs, loopholes and exemptions. It looks like they don’t.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Some begin to re-think beach replenishment
For more than a century, for good or ill, New Jersey has led the nation in coastal development. Many of the barrier islands along its coast have long been lined by rock jetties, concrete sea walls or other protective armor. Most of its coastal communities have beaches only because engineers periodically replenish them with sand pumped from offshore.

Now much of that sand is gone. Though reports are still preliminary, coastal researchers say that when Hurricane Sandy came ashore, it washed enormous quantities of sand off beaches and into the streets — or even all the way across barrier islands into the bays behind them.

But even as these towns clamor for sand, scientists are warning that rising seas will make maintaining artificial beaches prohibitively expensive or simply impossible. Even some advocates of artificial beach nourishment now urge new approaches to the issue, especially in New Jersey.
–The New York Times

China buying water rights in Japan
Morihiro Oguma’s phone rang every day with calls from brokers representing foreign investors who wanted to buy his Japan Mineral water-bottling business.

“In many cases, I was told I could name my price,” Oguma said in an interview, adding he had no interest in selling the Hokkaido-based company. “It seems what they really wanted was our rights to groundwater.”

A two-decade slump in Japan’s real estate prices, an incomplete land registry and lax rules on buying forest with water rights are attracting investors led by China and come amid a fraying of ties between the two countries over a territorial dispute. Some areas of remote woodland in Japan, the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that doesn’t regulate property investment by foreigners, can be bought for 60 U.S. cents a square meter including groundwater.

Japan, whose population is shrinking, ranks in the top 10 percent of countries by water resources, while China and India, with the opposite demographic trend, will face shortages from 2030, according to a United Nations report in August. Almost half of China’s economy is already based in water-scarce regions, HSBC Holdings Plc said in a Sept. 12 report.
–Bloomberg News

Your input is sought on Minnesota environment

November 6, 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.

Have your say on water and environmental issues
What do clean water, the economy, energy and the health of our environment all have in common? These topics will be discussed by Minnesotans this month and next at six Citizen Forums around the state.

The forums, free and open to the public, will give Minnesotans an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. State leaders will consider the citizen input next March at a Minnesota Environmental Congress summit, where they will begin to plan a blueprint for Minnesota’s environmental and economic future.

For more information visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. The Minnesota Environmental Congress and the Citizens Forums leading up to it are the result of an executive order issued by Gov. Mark Dayton last year.

To assess Minnesota’s progress toward clean air, water and energy, the Environmental Quality Board is convening the Citizen Forums around the state to engage citizens in constructive dialogue, identify environmental challenges and define a vision for Minnesota’s environmental future.

Here are the locations, dates and times for the six regional Citizens Forums:

• Rochester: Nov. 27, 9:30 a.m. – noon at Wood Lake Meeting Center.

• Bloomington: Nov. 27, 6:30 – 9 p.m. at Normandale Community College.

• Duluth: Nov. 28, 5:30 – 8  p.m. at Lake Superior College.

• Worthington: Dec. 10, 3:30 – 6 p.m. at Worthington High School.

• St. Cloud: Dec. 12, 5:30 – 8 p.m. at Stearns County Service Center.

• Moorhead: Dec. 14, 3 – 5:30 p.m. at Minnesota State University.

For more information about the Citizens Forums and to indicate your intention to attend, visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. If you have questions, call Anna Sherman at 651-201-6607 or email anna.sherman@state.mn.us.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

KARE11 series reports on threats to water
View a series of stories – “Project H2O” – that KARE 11-TV broadcast on Nov. 1:

A geological primer on what’s going on beneath us
Have you ever wondered what’s in the soil and rocks deep beneath your feet? Have you worried that something being put on the land or done to the land will pollute the groundwater beneath it?

The Minnesota Geological Survey has just published a guide to Minnesota geology and groundwater that will answer some of your questions.

The publication, written with a goal of avoiding technical jargon, is intended to explain to local officials, land use managers and planners how the Geological Survey’s county geologic atlases are produced and how they can be used for planning  that protects groundwater. More broadly, the  publication — titled Geologic Atlas User’s Guide: Using Geologic Maps and Databases for Resource Management and Planning  — is a primer on what’s going on in the basement of this house in which we all live.

Report examines nitrogen BMP decision
Read a new report on how and why farmers in two Minnesota watersheds make decisions about the nitrogen fertilizer they apply to their crops.

The report, funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was written by University of Minnesota forest resources professor Mae Davenport and a graduate student, Bjorn Olson.

It was based on in-depth interviews with 30 farmers in the Rush River watershed in Le Sueur and Nicollet counties and the Elm Creek watershed in Martin and Jackson counties. The report is titled  “Nitrogen Use and Determinants of Best Management Practices: A Study of Rush River and Elm Creek Agricultural Producers.”

Northshore Mining fined for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined Northshore Mining Co. in Silver Bay $242,973 for spraying 39,200 gallons of hazardous waste onto its property and improperly sending an equal amount to a nearby water treatment plant. It is the fourth time since September 2010 that the taconite company has been fined for violating Minnesota pollution laws.

The agency found that Northshore Mining sprayed a “corrosive hazardous waste leachate” over its coal-ash landfill to control dust. An additional 38,900 gallons of the leachate were delivered to an authorized wastewater treatment plant in Duluth over the course of two days in 2011, but the quantity exceeded permitted levels. The company failed to immediately report the violations and failed to properly monitor high pH levels in the leachate, the agency said.
–The Star Tribune

Algae no energy panacea, report says 
Biofuels made from algae, promoted by President Barack Obama as a possible way to help wean Americans off foreign oil, cannot be made now on a large scale without using unsustainable amounts of energy, water and fertilizer, the U.S. National Research Council reported.

“Faced with today’s technology, to scale up any more is going to put really big demands on … not only energy input, but water, land and the nutrients you need, like carbon dioxide, nitrate and phosphate,” said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, a microbial physiologist who headed the committee that wrote the report.

Hunter-Cevera stressed that this is not a definitive rejection of algal biofuels, but a recognition that they may not be ready to supply even 5 percent, or approximately 10.3 billion gallons (39 billion liters), of U.S. transportation fuel needs. “Algal biofuels is still a teenager that needs to be developed and nurtured,” she said.
–Reuters

Biofuel plant called invasive threat 
A plant being eyed as a renewable fuel source has a dark side, choking native plants, clogging rivers and streams and draining wetlands, U.S. scientists say.

Giant reed, also known as arundo donax, is a fast-growing hardy grass species found throughout Texas and the southern United States the U.S. government is considering as a renewable fuel source. Its often unruly behavior has some scientists and environmentalists arguing the ecological and economic risks are greater than the possible benefit.

They say they want the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a nearly finalized rule that would encourage farmers to grow giant reed and other invasive grasses for biofuels production.
–UPI

Water takes 12.6% of U.S. energy
A new report by a team of University of Texas at Austin researchers shows that the energy needed to capture, move, treat and prepare water in 2010 required 12.6 percent of nation’s total annual energy consumption, which is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of roughly 40 million Americans.

“Evaluating the Energy Consumed for Water Use in the United States” is the first report of its kind to quantify baseline water-related energy consumption across the U.S. water system. The report, published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, gives industry leaders, investors, analysts, policymakers and planners the information they need to make informed decisions, and could help the nation achieve its water and energy security goals, a news release stated.

“Energy and water security are achievable, and with careful planning, we can greatly reduce the amount of water used to produce energy, and the amount of energy used to provide and use water,” said Michael E. Webber, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who directed the research project. “In particular, our report shows that because there is so much energy embedded in water, saving water might be a cost-effective way to save energy.”
–Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews