Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

Save money by saving water .2 cents at a time

September 5, 2012

If you are a normal household user of water, you should conserve water because it’s the right thing to do. Not to save money. But there is some modest payback, and here’s a Christian Science Monitor blog article estimating what you can save with various water-conservation changes around the house.

Water level drops in Ogallala aquifer in Texas

July 23, 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

Water level drops in Ogallala aquifer in Texas
In case we need another example of the disturbing ramifications of extreme drought for our future water security, we can look to recent news out of northwest Texas.

The High Plains Water District, based in Lubbock, recently reported that the 2011-12 drought drove groundwater levels in its sixteen-county service area to drop an average of 2.56 feet (0.78 meters) – the largest annual decline recorded in the last 25 years and more than triple the annual average for the last decade.

The lesson: as droughts intensify, our depletion of groundwater will pick up speed.
Water Currents, a National Geographic blog by Sandra Postel

Minnesota conservation reserve acres are declining

June 8, 2012

More than 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive Minnesota farm land are likely to be removed this fall from the federal Conservation Reserve Program that pays farmers to idle land for 10 to 15 years.

Much of that land that now is planted in grass will be growing corn or soybeans next spring. The return of the land to row crops will continue a trend occurring in Minnesota, and across the country, since 2007.

And the trend – driven by federal budget constraints and high commodity prices that induce farmers to choose cropping over the yearly federal conservation payments – is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

“We’re looking at potentially losing 750,000 more acres in Minnesota within the next five year,” said Bill Penning, the supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prairie habitat team.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that it has approved 99,000 acres for re-enrollment or new enrollment in CRP in Minnesota. But that is only about one-third of the 290,000 acres on which CRP contracts expire on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The exact amount of land that comes out of CRP on Sept. 30 will be determined by how many farmers with land in a small subset of the program decide to remove from the conservation effort many relatively small tracts of land dedicated to practices that include stream buffers, uncropped wellhead protection areas, windbreaks and living snow fences.

Land idled for those kinds of practices currently totals about 43,000 acres in Minnesota.  All of that land could stay in CRP, but it is likely some of it will come out.

“It’s going to be well over 100,000 acres that’s going to come out of the program,” said Matt Holland, senior field coordinator for Pheasants Forever in Minnesota.

Across the country, CRP acres peaked at about 36.8 million acres in 2007. In 2008, Congress capped national participation in the program at 32 million acres.  The USDA has predicted that the current CRP enrollment of about 29.6 million acres will decline to 29 million in the new fiscal year.

Minnesota participation in CRP peaked at about 1.8 million acres in 2007 and has slowly declined since then to about 1.6 million this year.

To view state-by-state data on CRP contracts this year and over the next  years, click here, then scroll down to CRP Contract Expirations by State, 2012-2018.

Mercury in fish; food sustainability

October 17, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Mercury levels in fish increase
Mercury emitted from American smokestacks has been declining for years. But contamination levels in loons, walleyes and some other species have actually increased in the past decade, according to the largest report yet on mercury in the Great Lakes region.

The report, released by the Great Lakes Commission, was based on 35 research studies and samples from tens of thousands of fish, birds and other animals. It concludes that the forests, lakes and wetlands that characterize the Great Lakes make the region particularly sensitive to mercury pollution.

Even more important, the authors conclude, the nature and extent of the region’s mercury problem is more severe than was previously known — and, for reasons that are not understood, appears to be getting worse for some species.

The report found that mercury levels are higher in fish in inland lakes than those in the big lakes. That was true of walleye from northern Minnesota and other heavily forested areas with wetlands.

Six of the 15 most commonly eaten fish had mercury levels higher than the EPA recommends for human consumption. And many species, including loons, showed sensitivities to mercury at much lower concentrations than had been known.
–The Star Tribune

Article offers food sustainability prescription
Feeding a world with 9 billion people by mid-century, and feeding them while easing some of the environmental degradation that worldwide agriculture already wreaks on the Earth, is doable, but difficult.

That’s the message of “Solutions for a cultivated planet,” a major article in the Journal Nature.

Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, was the lead author in an international team of scientists who wrote the article. It was published on-line on Oct. 12; it will be the cover story in the Oct. 20 print edition.

The article calls for five changes in the way the world raises and treats its food:

— Halt the expansion of agriculture into tropical rainforests, partly by paying compensation for the ecosystem services those regions provide.
—  Increase crop yields in cultivated areas of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
— Use fertilizers and water more strategically.
— Shift diets to include less meat.
— Reduce the one-third of the world’s food that ends up being wasted, spoiled or eaten by pests.

If you subscribe to Nature, read the article here. Otherwise: read a University of Minnesota news release describing the article, read a Star Tribune article about it, listen to a National Public Radio report, or read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Foley about agriculture and the environment.

Organic food, ag leader to lecture
Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the
Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited. Please register to reserve your place.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

Deadline is Oct. 25 to win $500
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?

Then we have a contest for you.

The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.

Mexico may send drinking water north
Mexico ships televisions, cars, sugar and medical equipment to the United States. Soon, it may be sending water north.

Western states are looking south of the border for water to fill drinking glasses, flush toilets and sprinkle lawns, as four major U.S. water districts help plan one of two huge desalination plant proposals in Playas de Rosarito, about 15 miles south of San Diego.

Combined, they would produce 150 million gallons a day, enough to supply more than 300,000 homes on both sides of the border.
The plants are one strategy by both countries to wean themselves from the drought-prone Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. Decades of friction over the Colorado, in fact, are said to be a hurdle to current desalination negotiations.
–The Associated Press

Good news on the turtle front
baby turtleA baby turtle, about the size of a quarter, has caused a big stir and reasons for optimism with researchers at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A Blanding’s turtle hatchling was discovered Oct. 6, at a study site in Martin County in south-central Minnesota. Until now, the youngest turtle identified in this population was estimated to be 14 years old.

“It’s encouraging and exciting,” said Laurinda Brown, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. “It shows us that some successful reproduction is still occurring here despite significant losses of suitable nesting habitat.”

Brown is part of a research team that has been studying the Blanding’s turtle population since 2007. She said that although these turtles can live to be 80 years old, they have been hit hard by the loss of wetland and upland habitat through the years, drastically limiting their ability to reproduce. This has resulted in a reduction of local Blanding’s turtle populations. Since 1984, Blanding’s turtles have been classified as a threatened species in Minnesota, making it illegal to possess, sell, harm or harass the turtles.
–DNR News Release

Cities move away from fluoride
A growing number of communities are choosing to stop adding fluoride to their water systems, even though the federal government and federal health officials maintain their full support for a measure they say provides a 25 percent reduction in tooth decay nationwide.

Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.

Eleven small cities or towns have opted out of fluoridating their water this year, including Fairbanks, Alaska, which acted after much deliberation and a comprehensive evaluation by a panel of scientists, doctors and dentists. The panel concluded that in Fairbanks, which has relatively high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride, the extra dose no longer provided the help it once did and may, in fact, be harmful.
–The New York Times

Zebra mussels again linked to a boat lift
Biologists at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are concerned zebra mussels may be hitchhiking on boat lifts.

The DNR says a second case recently was discovered on the northeast corner of Lake Irene in Douglas County. A localized population of zebra mussels was found on a lift.

A similar case was discovered at Rose Lake in Otter Tail County in late September.

At Lake Irene, the DNR was called in to investigate zebra mussels found on a boat lift recently removed from the water. The DNR suspects the pests were transported to the lake this summer when the boat lift was moved in from an infested lake.

The DNR plans to treat the small area with copper sulfate, used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch.
–The Associated Press

DNR updates list of infested lakes
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has updated its website to show the additional lakes and sections of rivers that were designated as waters infested with invasive species during the summer and fall.

“The continued spread of aquatic invasive species highlights the urgency for increased awareness and vigilance by people moving water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts and water toys,” said Jay Rendall, DNR invasive species prevention coordinator. “Extra effort is needed to clean, drain and dry all equipment to prevent further spread from infested waters.”

Here is a recap of the lakes and bodies of water that have been added to the list:

Zebra mussels: Six water bodies have been designated as infested with zebra mussels. They include Rose Lake in Otter Tail County, where zebra mussels were discovered in late September; Brophy Lake, which is part of a chain of lakes that were previously designated near Alexandria; and four lakes downstream – Cowdry (Cowdrey), Lottie (Taylor), North Union Lake (Union) and Stoney (Stony). (Lake Irene in Douglas County, a recently confirmed infestation, will be designated in a subsequent DNR Commissioner’s order.)

Eurasian watermilfoil: Seven additional waters have been confirmed to have Eurasian watermilfoil. They are: Clearwater in Crow Wing County; Circle Lake in Rice County; Otter and Sylvia lakes in Stearns County; and Locke, John and Silver lakes in Wright County.

Faucet snails: Two lakes – First Crow Wing and Second Crow Wing — and an additional portion of the Crow Wing River in Hubbard County were designated as infested because of the presence of faucet snails. The snail has been linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish, Bowstring Lake and the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

Spiny waterfleas: Two waters were added in the vicinity of Lake of the Woods because spiny waterfleas are present. Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported. They can collect in masses, sticking to fishing lines, downrigger cables and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs.

View the list of infested waters.
–DNR News Release

Two endangered whooping cranes shot
Whooping crane chicks have definite personalities. Chick L10 was shy but blossomed into a rascal, and Chick L8 had an early tendency toward being a bit of a bully, but eventually learned to get along with his peers.

Whooping crane Chick L8 was hatched on June 4, 2010. When he was about a month old, he became a “meanie” toward other chicks and could not be walked with any other cranes. He had to live and exercise by himself for a long time and was the last bird to be socialized with the rest of his cohorts. But it turns out that Chick L8 was just a late bloomer, and he eventually learned to live peaceably with others. Chick L8 has a sister, who was also released in Louisiana.

Both of these gangly, adolescent whooping cranes were shot and killed in Louisiana on Monday, October 10, 2011, and though two alleged shooters have been identified, the world of whooping crane scientists, managers, caretakers, volunteers, and birders is in mourning — once again.

Tragically, these are the sixth and seventh shooting deaths of reintroduced endangered U.S. whooping cranes in 2011.
–U.S. Geological Survey News Release

Texans to vote on $6 billion for water
Allan Ritter pushed a bill to make 25 million Texans pay an extra $3.25 a year to help provide water for decades. Then, with a record drought devastating farms and ranches, the state representative’s party leaders waded in.

“We couldn’t get the votes,” said the Republican from Nederland who heads the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers who run the chamber sought to oblige Governor Rick Perry’s pledge not to boost taxes instead.

“You couldn’t get the votes in the House to raise revenue for anything last session,” Ritter said. Since 1996, when lawmakers mandated statewide water planning, Texans haven’t agreed on how to pay for needed work. This year, as crops withered and cattle went to early slaughter, pressure rose for action to protect the economy and sustain a surging population. Perry called on citizens to pray for rain six months after the drought began. On Nov. 8, voters will decide on letting the state carry as much as $6 billion in water-related debt.
–Bloomberg News Service

Gore ties global warming to pollution
It’s been more than five years since Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” put global warming at the forefront of the national debate.

And the former vice president’s passion for the subject appears intact.

Gore arrived on the Wayne State University campus and delivered a rousing address tying the fight to combat climate change to other environmental issues — particularly, efforts to help the Great Lakes region rebound from decades of industrial pollution.

If anything, the intensity of Gore’s arguments might have increased in recent years.

As an example, Gore drew a parallel between high levels of phosphorous scientists believe are pouring into the Great Lakes and resulting in harmful algal blooms with the carbon emissions believed to be affecting the ozone layer.
–The Detroit News

Met Council may sue 3M over pollution
The Metropolitan Council is considering legal action against 3M Co. after state regulators said the agency may have to spend millions of dollars on wastewater treatment plants to clean up a toxic pollutant connected to the corporation’s manufacturing sites.

The development brings yet another player into the decades-long battle over perfluorochemical (PFC) contamination in the Mississippi River and groundwater in the east metro area, which already has cost 3M millions of dollars in cleanup and remediation.

PFCs are industrial compounds widely used in the manufacture of household products, but which are viewed as an emerging environmental health concern. In high concentrations the compounds are toxic, especially the one at issue in the Met Council’s plants, known as perfluorooctane sulfanate or PFOS.

3M stopped using the compounds in 2002, but last year the Minnesota attorney general filed suit against the company after 3M and the state were unable to reach agreement on future cleanup costs and water treatment related to many years of contamination in the east metro area.

Now, the council is considering joining in that lawsuit, as the city of Lake Elmo did after it was filed.
–The Star Tribune

Suit challenges ozone inaction
Five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration over its rejection of a proposed stricter new standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns.

The groups said that President Obama’s refusal to adopt the new standard was illegal and left in place an inadequate air quality rule from the Bush administration. Near the end of his presidency, George W. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory panel and set the permissible ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion.

The current E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel. But President Obama rejected that proposal on Sept. 2, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry. He ordered the E.P.A. to conduct further scientific studies and come up with a new proposal in 2013.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin DNR reviews dairy’s water permit
The Department of Natural Resources said it will reconsider a key permit for a large dairy farm proposed in Adams County after the agency received an analysis by a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hydrogeologist who concluded the farm is likely to reduce local water supplies.

The DNR had made a preliminary determination that groundwater pumping by the 4,200-cow Richfield Dairy would not harm local conditions.

And a spokesman for the company developing the farm also emphasized that the pumping of more than 50 million gallons of water annually won’t be more than the irrigation now used for potatoes on the same land.

The Richfield Dairy is being developed by Kaukauna-based Milk Source, which owns the state’s largest dairy farm, Rosendale Dairy, in Fond du Lac County. It operates two other farms and a third is slated to open early next year.

If Richfield Dairy is constructed, Milk Source will own five dairy farms with about 26,500 cows, according to the company. In addition, it owns a separate 9,200-calf operation near De Pere.

At Richfield Dairy, the company needs DNR permits for a high-capacity well and wastewater discharge, along with an environmental assessment of the project. Approvals on all three are pending, according to the DNR.

The DNR said it is reconsidering the permit for the high-capacity well after George Kraft of UW-Stevens Point said the farm would harm local water bodies and draw down the aquifer.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Heron Lake water management fee opposed
More than 20 people who live within the outline of a proposed Water Management District in the Heron Lake Watershed provided comment to members of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources regarding additional fees they could be assessed if a WMD plan is approved.

The nearly two-hour public hearing at times grew heated as people expressed their displeasure at “another tax,” and the prospect of a plan being implemented by an HLWD board consisting of five appointed, rather than elected, members.

Most of the approximately 75 people in attendance were residents of Jackson County, where county commissioners voted against the WMD plan earlier this year. Both the Nobles and Murray county boards of commissioners approved the proposal in July.
–The Worthington Daily Globe

Target promises seafood sustainability
The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. operates 1,762 stores, many of which are converting to incorporate PFresh markets that sell fresh and frozen foods, including fish.

In 2010, Target stopped selling farmed salmon, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy due to various sustainability issues. It currently sells 50 different brands of fish certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council or the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

“We thought this larger commitment to fully eliminate anything that’s not certified by 2015 would be the right thing to do to encourage our guests to make the right decisions,” said Shawn Gensch, vice president of marketing for Target’s sustainability initiatives.

Target is partnering with the nonprofit marine conservation group FishWise to reach its sustainability goals. According to FishWise executive director Tobias Aguirre, the group will assess all Target seafood products with vendor surveys to understand how the seafood is caught or farmed and will evaluate the environmental impacts associated with each product.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation fund focus of political fight
The 50,000 drivers who cruise daily along Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs drive through ranch and farm land marked by dramatic buttes and the presence of wild animals, a vista that might have been very different but for a little-known federal program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress created in 1965, helped pay for this open space, along with large swaths of land in other areas across the country. But there is a fight looming in Washington as Congress plans to drastically cut the program’s budget, and President Obama, who had accepted cuts in the past, appears ready to oppose them.

The White House has warned it will veto the House Interior spending bill, in part because of its cuts to the conservation fund program. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone interview that the bill would bring conservation “as close to zero as it’s been in modern times.”

The fund is supposed to receive $900 million each fiscal year out of U.S. offshore oil and gas revenue to pay for federal land acquisitions. But with the exception of fiscal 1998, its funding has consistently fallen well short of that mark. The 2011 operating plan provided $300.5 million, and although Obama asked for $900 million for fiscal 2012, the pending House appropriations bill for Interior allocates just under $95 million.
–The Washington Post

Agricultural dust causes EPA dust-up
A Republican amendment targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s nonexistent farm dust regulations laid the groundwork for a surprising, and possibly precedent-setting, parliamentary maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The question now, is how do Reid and Democrats — particularly Midwesterners up for reelection next year — deal with the amendment the next time it comes up? After all, congressional Republicans have made their push to label EPA regulations as job killers a centerpiece in their fight against the jobs strategies from President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders.

“This will not go away. We will keep bringing it up every chance we get,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told POLITICO. Reid is “going to have to deal with me at some point. He can’t be king forever.”

Reid moved to stop the GOP’s ability to offer motions allowing for amendments to be offered to a bill even after a filibuster has already been defeated if two-thirds of senators allow. Republicans contend Reid made his move because there was a good chance the 67 votes were there for Johanns’s amendment.
–Politico

The land of 10,000 logos
Nicole Meyer has her free time mapped out for the next 27 years. That’s how long she estimates it will take her to reach her goal of designing a logo a day for every lake in Minnesota.

“One thing is for sure: I don’t have to worry about running out [of lakes],” she said. “There’s almost an endless supply of them.”

A Wisconsin native who fell in love with the state while attending the University of Minnesota, Meyer started the project as a way of reconnecting with the area while working at an advertising agency in Arizona. Now back in Minneapolis, she’s determined to keep it going.

Every day, she picks a lake, researches it, designs its logo and posts it on the web site.

Lake associations have expressed interest in buying the rights to the logos of their lakes for T-shirts or signs, and Meyer is considering their offers. But the point of this has never been to make money, she insisted.
–The Star Tribune

Minnehaha Creek honors Watershed Heroes
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District  is honoring a company, a state agency, several nonprofit organizations and several individuals as Watershed Heroes for protecting water resources.

The honorees, who will receive their awards at a ceremony on Nov. 17, are:

Solution Blue  Inc., a St. Paul firm that specializes in sustainable design.
— Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which underground storm water holding tanks and a water-pervious  driveway and parking lot at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.
—  Minnesota Waters, a statewide non-profit organization that has taken a leadership role in confronting aquatic invasive species.
— Youth of Pierson Lake Association, a youth organization that  caught and removed about 35,000 pounds of carp from Pierson Lake.
— Lake Action Alliance, a coalition of the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association, the Lake Minnewashta Preservation Association and the Lotus Lake Association that has worked to protect its lakes and others against zebra mussels.
— Bob and Jan Halverson, who sold their 112-acre farm in Minnetrista to the watershed district  for less than its appraised value as a gift to the community.  The district  plans to conserve most of the land to protect Halsted Bay on Lake Minnetonka’s Halsted Bay.

Report: The pollution from 9 billion chickens

August 1, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

‘Big Chicken’ examines poultry pollution
“Big Chicken,” a new report by the Pew Environment Group, looks at the United States’ fast-growing poultry industry and the water pollution that often results from the highly concentrated manure chickens produce.

Chicken, once a distant third to pork and beef, is now the most popular meet in America. Each of us, on average, consumes 84 pounds of chicken a year, according to the Pew report.

High-phosphorus chicken manure from big poultry operations in Maryland and Delaware long has been implicated as major cause of pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

About 9 billion broiler chickens – grown for food, not eggs —  are grown each year in the U.S., according to the report. Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas account for 65 percent of the total.  Minnesota, a big turkey-producing state,  grows about 48 million broilers a year, less than 1 percent of the total, according to data
on the Pew web site.

New carp evidence found near Chicago
Federal officials announced that they will begin intensive monitoring of waterways near Lake Michigan after genetic material from the invasive Asian carp showed up in a third consecutive round of testing.

Crews will use electric jolts to stun fish, sweep the waterway with half-mile-long nets and conduct additional sampling in Lake Calumet and the Calumet River near Chicago during a four-day period beginning Monday, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Council announced.

DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the Great Lakes after migrating northward from the South for decades, was found in 11 samples in the lake and the river during testing in July. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on July 22 that it had found two consecutive samples containing DNA from silver carp and would increase its response if DNA was
found in a third sample.
–The Associated Press

Chesapeake Bay ‘dead zone’ expanding
A giant underwater “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay is growing at an alarming rate because of unusually high nutrient pollution levels this year, according to Virginia and Maryland officials. They said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.

This year’s Chesapeake Bay dead zone covers a third of the bay, stretching from the Baltimore Harbor to the bay’s mid-channel region in the Potomac River, about 83 miles, when it was last measured in late June. It has since expanded beyond the Potomac into Virginia, officials said.

Especially heavy flows of tainted water from the Susquehanna River brought as much nutrient pollution into the bay by May as
normally comes in an entire average year, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources researcher said. As a result, “in Maryland we saw the worst June” ever for nutrient pollution, said Bruce Michael, director of the DNR’s resource assessment service.
–The Washington Post

A mid-summer update on Minnesota lakes
If you missed it, listen to Patrick Sweeney from the Freshwater Society and Luke Skinner and Jason Moeckel  from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discuss water quality and invasive species  in Minnesota’s lakes. The three were
interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday program on July 29.

Judge excoriates EPA for inaction
A federal judge blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland and District of Columbia for ignoring the impact of pollutants on the Anacostia River in approving a cleanup plan that was more than 30 years in the making.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth lamented the trio’s failure to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act in a decision granting summary judgment to Anacostia Riverkeeper Inc. and Friends of the Earth.

The 67-page opinion forces the agency to reconsider the total daily maximum loads (TDML) of pollution that can be discharged into the river.

“The CWA [Clean Water Act] was enacted in light of severe threats to the nation’s navigable waters, and it was intended to spur immediate action by both federal and state authorities,” Lamberth wrote. “Yes (sic) despite the act’s command that states identify and develop TMDLs for implemented waters, the district and EPA spent 20 years ignoring these obligations and fighting attempts to compel them to act. Then, despite the act’s unmistakable requirement to develop a total maximum daily load for each
pollutant, EPA and the district spent the next 7 years insisting that they need only develop annual loads. And now, despite the act’s clear instruction that each TMDL set levels necessary to implement all applicable water quality standards, EPA and the District – now joined by Maryland-have spent the last 4 years arguing that they need only pay attention to some of those
standards. The Court will not countenance such conduct.” (Italics in original.)
–Courthouse News Service

EPA tells Wisconsin to improve permitting
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that its permit system to control water pollution doesn’t meet standards set by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The EPA’s action is a victory for the Clean Water Action Council of Northeastern Wisconsin, which has opposed for years the state’s water pollution permit to the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Green Bay. The council claimed the permit, which expired last year, allowed unlimited discharges of mercury and increased amounts of phosphorous into the Fox River.

In a letter to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the EPA’s Regional Administrator Susan Hedman wrote that there are “numerous apparent omissions and deviations between Wisconsin’s current statute and regulations and federal requirements.”

Hedman said the EPA has not approved elements of Wisconsin’s permits that “are less stringent or comprehensive than federally required.” The EPA requires states to meet at least the minimum standards in the Clean Water Act.
–The Green Bay Press Gazette

Opinion: House GOP ‘riders’ attack environment
While almost no one was looking, House Republicans embarked on a broad assault on the nation’s environmental laws, using as their weapon the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. When debate began, the bill included an astonishing 39 anti-environmental riders — so called because they ride along on appropriations bills even though they have nothing to do with spending and are designed to change policy, in this case disastrously.

Riders generally are not subjected to hearings or extensive debate, and many would not survive on their own. They are often written in such a way that most people, even many Capitol Hill insiders, need a guide to understand them. They are, in short, bad policy pushed forward through a bad legislative process.

A rider can be removed from the bill only with a vote to strike it. The Democrats managed one big victory when, by a vote of 224 to 202, the House struck one that would have gutted the Endangered Species Act by blocking the federal government from listing any new species as threatened or endangered and barring it from protecting vital habitat — a provision so extreme that even some Republicans could not countenance it.
–The New York Times

California regulates chromium 6 in water
The California Environmental Protection Agency released the nation’s first standard for limiting a cancer-causing chemical in drinking water.

The agency set a public health goal for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, that will be used by the state’s Department of Public Health to help create a legally enforceable limit on the chemical in drinking water. The agency set the goal at .02 parts per billion.

Chromium 6 gained national infamy after a toxic plume contaminated water in the Mojave Desert town of Hinkley (San Bernardino County) – leading to a $333 million settlement from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. – and was dramatized in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Dr. George Alexeef, acting director of the agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said the goal “is the culmination of years of study and research on the health effects of this chemical. As the nation’s first official goal for this contaminant, it will be an important tool” to develop a regulatory standard.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

4 million Chinese face pollution crisis
The drinking water for a major city in China’s Sichuan Province has become unusable due to pollution from an electrolytic manganese plant. Bottled water and some food items have become scarce as people emptied store shelves to stock up. In addition, it took authorities five days to make a public announcement that tap water was unsafe for consumption.

Four million people in Mianyang, the second largest city in Sichuan Province, have been left without municipal drinking water when the Fujiang River, the city’s water source, became polluted by manganese tailings.

Torrential rain on July 20 in the upstream area of the Fujiang River threatened the gangue dam of an electrolytic manganese metal plant in Xiaohe Village, Songpang County. Fearing the possibility of landslides, the plant released floodwater in the early morning of July 21, resulting in 10,000 cubic meters (353,146 cubic feet) of the tailings being washed into the Fujiang River, the
Southern Metropolis Daily reported on July 28.

On July 26, five days after the initial pollution incident, the environmental
protection department of Mianyang City reported that samples
from both upstream and downstream contained manganese levels about 20 times
higher than allowed by the state’s water quality standards.
–The Epoch Times

USDA announces non-food biofuel sites
The US Department of Agriculture announced the designation of nearly 80,000 acres in six different states for the production of non-food crops that can be converted into biofuels.

Four project areas in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington will be set aside for growing camelina, hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass under the Agriculture Department’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

These designations add to five BCAP project areas announced earlier this year for up to 250,000 acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These crops are the first-ever national investments in expanding U.S. biomass resources beyond corn and forestry to meet domestic energy security.
–SustainableBusiness.com

California water users sue water ‘bankers’
Peter Key knew something was strange when the water levels in his tropical fish tank began to go down last summer. Then the
washing machine took 40 minutes to fill, and the toilets would not flush.

But even as Mr. Key and neighbors spent $14,000 to deepen their community well here, they had identified a likely culprit.

They blamed water banking, a system in which water-rights holders — mostly in the rural West — store water in underground
reservoirs either for their own future use or for leasing to fast-growing urban areas.

So the neighbors’ small local water utility has gone to state court to challenge the wealthy farming interests that dominate two of the country’s largest water banks.
–The New York Times (Second installment in the Times’ Precious Waters series about dwindling water supplies across the U.S.)

Wisconsin suit challenges 4,300-cow dairy
Factory farm opponent Family Farm Defenders along with Bob Clarke, a property owner near the proposed Richfield Dairy, have
filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in an effort to slow down the process that would allow construction of a new 4,300-cow dairy near Coloma.

Clarke and Family Farm Defenders, in their lawsuit filed in Dane County, are asking for judicial review of an administrative decision by the DNR that approved plans and specifications for Richfield Dairy, a concentrated animal feeding operation in Adams County owned by MilkSource.

Richfield Dairy applied for plans and specifications approval on Feb. 23, and received statutory approval from the DNR on June 24.
–The Northwestern

 

Research Council weighs in on Chesapeake TMDL

May 9, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

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National Research Council reviews Chesapeake clean-up
The new national strategy for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is better than the one used over the past 30 years, but is lacking in science, accounting and fairness, a study by the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

 The study is depicted as an independent review of a blueprint pushed by the Obama administration to put the Bay on a “pollution diet” over the next 15 years and restore healthy water quality after 2025.

Supporters and critics of the Obama initiative found something to like in the report, prepared by nine scientists from across the country, including one from the University of Virginia.

 Supporters latched onto its bottom-line message: A federally led strategy to cut the Bay’s three most troubling pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment – through two-year progress reports and detailed cleanup plans from six states and the District of Columbia is more likely to succeed than the old system of politically expedient promises and little transparency.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the report shows that, after decades of empty pledges and missed deadlines, government overseers finally are on the right track.

 Critics said they were heartened to see some of their concerns validated in print, including a reliance on incomplete computer models and a system of analyzing data that “cannot on the whole be viewed as accurate,” according to the report.

 For example, in determining if farms are reducing polluted runoff, the report notes how farmers who took action on their own and without government money were not counted as helping the Bay in computer models.

 The report also points out that “nearly all states have insufficient information to evaluate their progress in reducing nutrient pollution,” and that few states even check to see if farm or stormwater improvements are actually working.
–The Virginia Pilot

 EPA joins effort to regulate Renville beet co-op
Federal pollution authorities have quietly stepped in to help Minnesota force a huge sugar beet processor near Renville to end its long history of fouling streams that lead to the state’s most troubled river.

 Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative has tangled repeatedly with the state Pollution Control Agency over its processing plant near the Minnesota River, and it has been fined numerous times in the past 15 years for air and water quality violations.

 Now, in an unusual step, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the lead on legal action against the farmer-owned co-op and has initiated a discussion with executives about what it will take to address its chronic problems.

Co-op officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Taken one by one, the plant’s violations are not egregious, state officials said. But their ongoing nature, environmental advocates say, illustrates the limits of the state’s ability to enforce state and federal air and water quality laws.
–The Star Tribune

Forest Service retains motorized limits on lakes near BWCAW
A debate simmering since the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was passed by Congress has quietly ended with a formal decision by the U.S. Forest Service that favors conservation groups.

 Jim Sanders, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, which includes the BWCAW, recently rendered a decision that will keep the number of motorboat permits on three chains of lakes in the Ely and Gunflint Trail areas at low levels.

 Local home and cabin owners on the Moose-Newfound-Sucker, Birch-Farm and Saganaga-Gull Lake-Sea Gull River chains of lakes, along with the Forest Service, had sought increased motor permits for the lakes to offer easier access for property owners. The lakes are adjacent to the federal wilderness.

 But a series of challenges and lawsuits from 1999 to 2006 by conservation groups opposed the increase, saying the landowners should be required to compete with everyone else who wants a day-use permit to operate a motorboat on the chain of lakes.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Opinion: Ag has role in preserving L. Pepin
It’s an essential truth that too few Minnesotans contemplate as they gaze over the state’s rolling fields or across their landscaped back yards. Human development has radically altered the state’s landscape.

 Native prairie has been plowed under and paved over, wetlands misguidedly filled in. Beneath it all are vast networks of drainage tile to quickly move rainwater off the land.

 All of this was done with good intentions.

 Minnesota’s rich soil has helped feed the world and now, through ethanol, is helping fuel it. The growing communities derided by some as sprawl are home to the citizens who come here or stay here because of the high quality of life.

 There is, however, a high price to be paid for this undeniable change in land use, as a newly finalized state plan to clean up a 64-mile stretch of the Mississippi River makes abundantly clear.

 The so-called “south-metro” portion of the nation’s premiere river, which winds through the Twin Cities down to Lake Pepin, is choking on the sediment swept downstream by the tributaries that drain half the state — an issue spotlighted last year in the documentary “Troubled Waters.
–The Star Tribune

 Wisconsin deploys invasive hit squad
Authorities in Wisconsin will release an invasive species this month to kill another invasive species.

More than 1,000 tiny stingless wasps the size of a grain of rice will be let go at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville later in May in the hope that they destroy another insect – the highly destructive emerald ash borer.

This is the first time Wisconsin has experimented with the wasps to kill emerald ash borers, and it will become the 10th state to experiment with the insect.

Officials in Wisconsin said that the wasps present no threat to the public.

 The emerald ash borer was first detected in 2008 in nearby Newburg on the Ozaukee-Washington county line. Since then, they have been found in Cudahy, Franklin, Oak Creek, Green Bay, Kenosha and Victory in Vernon County.

Wisconsin has an estimated 700 million ash trees.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Hoyt Lakes taconite plant penalized
Mesabi Nugget Delaware, LLC and Steel Dynamics, Inc. recently agreed to pay a $12,500 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for alleged water quality permit violations at their iron nugget production facility in Hoyt Lakes, Minn.  The permittees have since fulfilled all of the settlement’s required corrective actions.

In 2005, the Mesabi Nugget/Steel Dynamic Hoyt Lakes facility received a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit that authorizes treated wastewater discharge to state surface waters.  The facility uses water for a variety of purposes, including cooling and air emissions control.  Prior to discharge, treated wastewater must meet specific effluent limits.

The MPCA alleges that Mesabi Nugget did not meet the permit’s effluent limits, effluent volume restrictions and various reporting requirements.

For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, visit the agency’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release

Fishing is big business in Minnesota
A ripple spreads when a bobber plops in calm water. Waves of economic impact roll over Minnesota when all its anglers do the same.

 “Though often perceived as a pleasant pastime, fishing is more than that,” explained Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s an economic engine that supports 43,000 Minnesota jobs, generates $2.8 billion in direct annual expenditures and contributes more than $640 million a year in tax revenues to the treasuries of our state and federal government.”

These figures, Peterson said, are based on a 2007 study that analyzed the economic impact of the nation’s 39 million licensed anglers, including 1.4 million in Minnesota.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Faster rising seas predicted
Global sea levels will rise faster than expected this century, partly because of quickening climate change in the Arctic and a thaw of Greenland’s ice, an international report said.

 The rise would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also raise the cost of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

 Record temperatures in the Arctic will add to factors raising world sea levels by up to 5.2 feet by 2100, according to a report by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

 “The past six years [until 2010] have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,” the report said.

 “In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 metres [3 feet] to 1.6 metres [5.2 feet] by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution,” it added.
–The Washington Post

Unexpected population growth predicted
The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report.

 Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.

 The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.
–The New York Times

 Mercury in fish a danger; PFOS not so much
Fish taken in 2010 from nine of Minnesota’s 10 largest walleye lakes had levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that were either very low or undetectable, suggesting those lakes have very little or no contamination from perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

That is one of the early findings from new data for fish contamination recently received by the Minnesota departments of Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The results of the PFC testing mean that advice on how much fish can be eaten safely from those walleye lakes will not be impacted by perfluorochemicals. That’s good news for Minnesotans who like to catch and eat fish from those waters, said Pat McCann, MDH fish advisory program manager.

 “Minnesotans can continue to enjoy the benefits that come from eating fish from some of their favorite lakes without concern for PFCs,” McCann said. “People should continue to follow the existing consumption advice for those lakes, which is based on mercury.”

 The walleye lakes tested were Kabetogama, Rainy, Vermilion, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass and Upper Red Lake. The 10th largest walleye lake is Lake Pepin, part of the Mississippi River, which had been previously tested and had levels of PFCs that led to recommendations to limit consumption for some species. Perfluorochemicals are a family of man-made chemicals that have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. 

For more background on perfluorochemicals in Minnesota, go to: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/pfcshealth.html.
–Minnesota Health Department news release

UM to commercialize storm water device
The University of Minnesota finalized an agreement with Upstream Technologies, a Minneapolis startup company that aims to commercialize a device that will improve sediment control for urban storm water.

The device was developed at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory, a research unit within the university’s College of Science and Engineering. Researchers nicknamed the device the “SAFL Baffle” and are finding it to be a cost-effective method for preventing harmful sediments carried by storm water from reaching Minnesota lakes and streams.

As water makes its way into storm sewers after a rainstorm, and eventually into lakes and rivers, it picks up sediments like sand and gravel along the way. These sediments sometimes contain nutrients that can interrupt the biological balance of lakes and streams and can be harmful to plant life.

“Urban runoff hits the road, goes into the storm sewers and ends up in receiving water bodies like lakes and rivers,” said John Gulliver, a civil engineering professor in the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering and co-inventor of the SAFL Baffle. “Cities are required to treat urban runoff and are trying to figure out how to deal with this.”

The SAFL Baffle is installed in a sump — a vertical cylinder that connects two or more sewer pipes. There are usually 30 to 40 sumps in the sewer system on a given street. The Baffle slows down water rushing into the sump and prevents it from picking up sediments that have settled there during low-flow periods.
–University of Minnesota news release 

Groups sue over Chicago sewage disposal
With no end in sight to Chicago’s chronic water pollution problems, environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the routine dumping of human and industrial waste into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

 The 12-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute about the river, which engineers reversed away from Lake Michigan at the beginning of the last century to block Chicago’s sewage from flowing into its source of drinking water.

Environmental groups accuse the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act by allowing sewage to pour out of overflow pipes during rainstorms. During the most intense downpours, district officials open locks separating the Chicago River from Lake Michigan and allow a noxious mix of runoff and disease-causing waste to flow into the lake.

 The groups are asking for a court order to stop the district from dumping sewage into area waterways immediately, but the lawsuit does not specify how that should happen.
–The Chicago Tribune 

 

Asian carp, ethanol and ‘fracking’

April 25, 2011
DNR staffer holds bighead carp

DNR supervisor Brad Parsons holds carp caught April 18. (DNR photo)

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Asian carp caught in St. Croix
A rogue bighead carp was pulled from the Lower St. Croix River , adding to fears the invasive creatures are slowly working their way into Minnesota border waters.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound fish  just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, agency officials said.

 It was the seventh bighead carp found in eastern border waters since 1996 but the sixth since 2003. DNR officials stressed the fish appears to be a loner that swam north and there’s no indication yet of a reproducing population in Minnesota portions of the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers.

 “Large migratory river fish — that’s what they do … they migrate,” said Brad Parsons, DNR central region fisheries manager.

“It’s alarming, but it’s one fish,” added DNR communications director Chris Niskanen. 

Bighead and silver carp, another type of Asian carp noted for its leaping abilities, have been on the agency’s radar for years because of the threat they pose to the state’s $2.7 billion fishing industry.

Imported from Asia four decades ago to control algae and other problems in Southern fish farms, they eventually escaped or were released into the wild and have been slowly making their way up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to southeastern Minnesota and South Dakota. They consume huge amounts of tiny plankton, upsetting the food chain and pushing out native fish, eventually making up 90 percent of some area’s fish biomass.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Flood waters may have helped carp reach St. Croix
A 27-pound bighead carp’s journey up the Mississippi River might have been eased by floodwaters, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expert said. 

Luke Skinner, invasive species supervisor for the DNR, said the fish a commercial fisherman caught in the St. Croix River might have used high water to find its way to where the two rivers merge.

The DNR is concerned about the invasive fish disrupting Minnesota’s river ecosystems.

 “It is cause for alarm because now we’re finding something pretty high up in the river, and we just don’t have a lot of ways to slow their spread, especially big river systems like this that are prone to flooding,” Skinner told MPR’s Morning Edition.

 All the locks, dams and gates are open this spring to allow high water to flow through, Skinner said. But even when the locks are closed, fish can get in. Skinner said there needs to be more fish barriers that would prevent invasive fish species from spreading. Listen to an MPR question-and-answer interview with Skinner.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Lamberton ethanol plant faces water penalties
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton has agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s MPCA-issued environmental permits at its production facility.

The agreement covers violations that have occurred since the facility began production in August 2009.  From startup until recently, the company’s operations have resulted in numerous violations of the facility’s air quality and water quality permits.

 The most serious violations involved the facility’s wastewater-treatment system.  Part of the system includes an on-site constructed pond which is permitted to receive only reject water from the reverse osmosis treatment system, yet unpermitted discharges were made to the pond repeatedly from other components of the facility.  This caused the capacity of the pond to be exceeded.  To get rid of the excess the company applied wastewater from the pond onto cropland, a treatment method for which the facility is not permitted. 

There were also a number of violations of the facility’s air quality permit, including failure to conduct monitoring at required intervals, maintain required operating parameters, maintain monitoring records, and submit required data to the MPCA.
–MPCA News Release

 Aging levees guard cities
Faced with epic floods in the late 1960s, dozens of communities across Minnesota hurriedly shaped dirt, clay, sand, gravel or whatever else was available into temporary walls to hold off the floodwaters.

 In most cases, those levees were supposed to be removed once the water receded.

 But more than 40 years later, ”emergency” levees remain the primary line of defense against floods, protecting hundreds of homes and businesses in numerous towns and cities. In an era of rising water and falling budgets, officials are viewing them with both thankfulness and nervousness.

 “We’re lucky they did it,” said Dale Graunke, mayor and lifelong resident of Delano, which late last month held off the fourth-highest crest on the South Fork of the Crow River. “But we don’t know the material. And if that levee breaks, 47 homes would be inundated. It’s all over the place.”
–The Star Tribune

 Obama acknowledges concern on ‘fracking’
President Barack Obama acknowledged concerns about natural gas drilling and groundwater contamination as part of a wide-ranging monologue on energy production at a town hall meeting.

 Obama has said natural gas should be part of a “clean energy standard” going forward but noted concerns about pollution. Although he didn’t mention hydraulic fracturing by name, the practice that has allowed new gas plays in the U.S. is increasingly controversial because of alleged links to groundwater contamination.

“We have a lot of natural gas here in this country,” Obama said. “The problem is, is that extracting it from the ground — the technologies aren’t as developed as we’d like and so there are some concerns that it might create pollution in our groundwater, for example.

 “So we’ve got to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we do it in a way that doesn’t poison people,” he added.
–Politico.com

Maryland to study septic system pollution
Gov. Martin O’Malley created a task force to figure out how to curb pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from septic systems, saying he hoped the study would help overcome “fears” of the legislation he had introduced this year that would have banned major housing developments relying on them.

“We must find a way to grow in a clean, green, more sustainable way,” O’Malley said prior to signing an executive order establishing the task force. He held the signing ceremony at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on the Severn River, where household septic systems account for roughly 30 percent of the nitrogen fouling the water.

Currently, about 411,000 Maryland households are on septic systems. Although a relatively small source of nitrogen pollution baywide compared with sewage plants or farm runoff, septic leakage of the harmful nutrient could increase by 36 percent over the next 25 years if nothing is done, state officials project. 

O’Malley’s bid to curb major housing developments on septic systems failed to get out of committee in Annapolis after rural lawmakers, farmers and developers raised an outcry, warning that it would throttle growth and cost jobs in the state’s rural and suburban counties.
–The Baltimore Sun 

Florida governor ask EPA to back off
The day after the Florida House passed a bill to ban implementation of water quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, Gov. Rick Scott asked the agency to rescind a January 2009 determination that the federal rules are necessary for Florida.

Opponents of the federal requirement say the state is better equipped to decide how best to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which is intended to manage nitrogen and phosphorous pollution of lakes, rivers, streams and bays. They say the EPA standards will be costly to implement, don’t address specific conditions of local waterways and provide little biological benefit.

 According to Scott’s office, the petition sent to the EPA details eight pollution control measures already in place Florida that mirror EPA recommendations for effective water pollution control.

 “Florida is one of the few states that has a comprehensive program in place to address excess nutrients, and we continue to lead the nation in developing innovative tools to ensure the health of our state’s waterways,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the EPA to reach an agreement that will promote clean water standards in the way that makes the most sense for our state.”

The U.S. EPA released pollution standards for Florida waterways in December 2010 as part of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, who sued the agency for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
–The Miami Herald

Merriam warns of environmental retreat

April 11, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Gene Merriam criticizes retreat on the environment
Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam writes that lawmakers, both in the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress,  increasingly are retreating from leadership on the environment.  He warns that Minnesota is in danger of “joining other states in a race to the bottom – in the pollution we accept and in the scientific evidence we ignore.”

 Merriam’s column was published in Freshwater’s April Facets newsletter and re-printed on the Minnpost web site. Read it either place. 

The newsletter also has articles on Craig A. Cox’s prescription for “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production” and a q-and-a interview with Pamela Shubat, director of the Minnesota Health Department’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.  

freshwater party and fund-raiser set April 21 Support Freshwater; come to a party
The Freshwater Society will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser April 21 in Excelsior. 

The event is keyed to two signs of spring:  Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka and the frequent stop-overs of migrating loons on the lake.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.,  will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, a raffle and silent auction, and presentations on loons and ice-out on the lake. If you think you are up to it, join the loon-calling contest.

 Visit the Freshwater web site for information and registration

Open house on south metro Mississippi plan set
A public open house on a draft clean-up plan for the Mississippi River in the south metro area will be held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May  4.

The open house will be at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave., St. Paul.

 The open house is sponsored by the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi National River &  Recreation Area and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River in St. Paul to Red Wing, currently fails to meet basic health standards because of excess sediment in the water.

 People attending the open house attendees will learn about a Total Maximum Daily Load plan prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that spells out maximum levels of pollution that the river can accept and still offer a clean and healthy environment for humans, animals, fish and plants.

At the open house, there will be two presentations on the plan – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – and each will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of water quality and restoration experts.

 To learn more about the South Metro Mississippi Turbidity TMDL, visit the MPCA’s Mississippi River TMDL web page.  For more information about the open house, contact  Trevor Russell at 651-222-2193 x18 or Lark Weller at 651-290-3030 x304.

 Sigurd Olson lectures scheduled
Amy Vedder, a renowned gorilla researcher and conservationist, will deliver three public lectures – in St. Paul, Duluth and Ely – on April 19 and 20 in the 2011 Sigurd Olson Lecture Series. The series is sponsored by Vermilion Community College and the Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness.

 Vedder, the senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, is the author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas, which describes her effort to study and protect mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 The title of her lecture is “From Gorillas to Grizzlies: A Conservation Journey.” The lectures will be:

  •   At  3 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, in Room 203 of Green Hall on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
  • At noon on Wednesday, April 20, in the fourth-floor library rotunda at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
  • At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the auditorium of Vermilion Community College.

 $103 million Texas groundwater deal set
A West Texas tycoon who shopped valuable water across the state for more than a decade has settled for selling to his neighbor.

 Lubbock and 10 Panhandle cities have a purchase agreement for thousands of acres of water rights owned by famed corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, potentially solidifying the group as the state’s largest holder of groundwater rights and closing a combative and fascinating chapter in water marketing in Texas.

 The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority confirmed the purchase of water rights beneath 211,000 acres in seven counties north of Amarillo for $103 million, increasing its groundwater holdings by 80 percent and an estimated 4 trillion gallons. The sale is expected to close in July or August, based on a statement from the authority.
–The Lubbock  Avalanche-Journal

 Electric carp barrier activated  near Chicago
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it activated a new electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville designed to keep Asian carp from migrating to Lake Michigan. 

It was completed a year ahead of schedule, the corps said.

Because of the electric discharge, the corps warned boaters to use “extreme caution” while traveling between river mile markers 296.1 and 296.7. It is dangerous to enter the water or place hands or feet in the water for any reason, the agency said.

Last month, federal officials said that lab testing found the Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric dispersal barriers were effective for fish 5.4 inches or longer. 

Higher electric power levels might be needed to immobilize small Asian carp about 2 to 3 inches long, they said. The smaller fish are not believed to be close to the barriers, which are near Lockport.
–Chicagobreakingnews.com

 Chicago urges quick action on Asian carp
Chicago is leaning on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track an ongoing study to protect Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline – and the rest of the Great Lakes – from an Asian carp invasion.

 “The proposed timeline for the study is too long,” Chicago environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna wrote to the Army Corps on March 25. “The threat of Asian carp has been known for more than a decade. It is not acceptable to wait another five years for solutions. We urge the Corps to speed up this timeline to every extent possible.”

 It is an ironic twist of history, considering that Chicago sparked the problem over 111 years ago when it obliterated the natural barrier between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan by constructing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

 The canal remains the linchpin in the Windy City’s giant plumbing system that flushes waste away from its Lake Michigan drinking water intake pipes, down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. The canal, which reversed the flow of the Chicago River so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it, was built to send about 6 billion gallons of Lake Michigan water per day into the Mississippi basin, though a Supreme Court ruling has capped that amount at about 2 billion gallons per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Can and bottle deposit bill proposed
When it comes to recycling bottles and cans, Minnesota pales in comparison with Iowa.

Here, 35 percent of them are recycled; the rest are lost or tossed. But south of the border, where a beverage container deposit law is in place, 86 percent, or 1.65 billion every year, are recycled.

 The reason for the difference?  “The answer is the deposit,” said Minnesota Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.  “People don’t throw away money.”

 Minnesota would adopt a similar approach under a bill she and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, plan to introduce. Their proposal would attach a 10-cent deposit on most bottles and cans containing beverages such as soft drinks and beer. Consumers would get their money back when they turn in the empty containers.

 By putting value on bottles and cans, people would be much more likely to return them, keeping them out of ditches or other parts of the waste stream, Hortman said.

And because there always would be fewer containers returned than bought, there would be unclaimed refunds that the state could use to offset budget problems, she said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin gov backs off on phosphorus rule repeal
Gov. Scott Walker has apparently backed off his plan to repeal a rule passed last year that sets limits in Wisconsin lakes and streams for phosphorus, a nutrient from fertilizers which causes weed and algae growth.

 Instead, Walker has proposed that the new rule not be put in place for two years, according to Cathy Stepp, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. Stepp testified on the proposal, and other conservation-related items in the budget, before the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

 Stepp said municipal officials and others affected by the rule told the agency that implementing the tougher statewide standard would be too expensive during this difficult economic period. Some communities estimated they would have to raise sewage treatment rates by as much as $900 per customer per year.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Minnesota DNR seeks tougher inspections for invasives
The Legislature is poised to give the Department of Natural Resources new authority to require boat inspections and decontamination to slow the spread of zebra mussels.

And that means Minnesotans could see some changes at boat landings this summer when they go out to visit their favorite lakes.

But there is disagreement about how effective these efforts could be.

 Zebra mussels hitchhike from lake to lake on boats and trailers. They can clog water intakes and boat motors, leave sharp shells on beaches, and, in high numbers, they can alter the food chain.

Minnesota now has 19 lakes and four rivers infested with zebra mussels — including Mille Lacs Lake, the state’s best-known walleye fishery, and popular Lake Minnetonka.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Climate change threatens extinctions
Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

 For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

The Berkeley scientists warn that their new study may actually grossly underestimate how many species could disappear. So far, humans have pushed species toward extinctions through means like hunting, overfishing and deforestation. Global warming, on the other hand, is only starting to make itself felt in l the natural world. Many scientists expect that as the planet’s temperature rises,  global warming could add even more devastation. “The current rate and magnitude of climate change are faster and more severe than many species have experienced in their evolutionary history,” said Anthony Barnosky, the lead author of the Nature study.
–The New York Times 

 Texas clean-air advocate wins $150,000 Goldman award
They call Port Arthur gasoline alley, cancer alley, and the armpit of Texas. For most of his life, Hilton Kelley has called it home.

 The city has had the same distinctive odor since he was a boy, Kelley said. Adults jokingly called it the smell of money, because the nearby oil refineries and petrochemical plants did most of the hiring. But after the cancer rate grew, the childhood asthma rate rose and the population plummeted, Kelley, now 50, stopped laughing.

 Kelley’s decade-long fight to lower the city’s air pollution earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for the North America category, being awarded Monday in San Francisco.

The annual prize and a $150,000 stipend is routinely awarded to six grass-roots environmentalists from different parts of the world. Since the award was established in 1990, a total of $13.2 million has been awarded to 139 recipients from 79 countries, as of 2010, according to a spokeswoman.
–The Washington Post

 Migrant’s genes transformed Isle Royale wolves
In Ontario, in the winter of 1997, a particularly virile male wolf stepped onto the ice of Lake Superior and headed toward Isle Royale, an island about 15 miles offshore. There he radically changed the genetic makeup of an isolated group of wolves that had lived there since the late 1940s.

 Researchers, who for many years have been observing the Isle Royale packs and the moose they feed on, did not realize at first that he was an immigrant, but soon his appearance and behavior became impossible to ignore.

He was larger than most of the Isle Royale wolves, and was so strongly territorial that he completely displaced one of the four packs, driving it to extinction within two years of his arrival. His own pack grew to 10 wolves, the largest seen on the island in almost 20 years. As he aged, his fur grew paler, almost white, a phenomenon known in other wolves but never before seen in the Isle Royale animals.
–The New York Times

 California board eyes groundwater clean-up
Farmers in California’s agricultural heartland, which also is home to some of America’s most contaminated aquifers, may soon have to start monitoring and cleaning up groundwater.

But the proposal being considered by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Rancho Cordova has generated frustration on all sides.

Farmers say the new regulations affecting 35,000 famers and 7 million acres of irrigated land are an expensive, bureaucratic burden. And environmental groups say the rules are not strong enough to protect drinking water from the threat of fertilizers and other agricultural runoff.

The new long-term rules would cover not only ground water but also surface water, which has been regulated on an interim basis since 2003.

University and local government studies have found that nitrate levels harmful to human health have increased dramatically in drinking water supplies in past decades. A report last month by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute concluded more than 1 million San Joaquin Valley residents—a third of the Valley’s population—are exposed to drinking water tainted with fertilizer and other toxins.
–The Associated Press

 Advocacy group releases report on carcinogen
U.S. water utilities have known about the prevalence of a likely carcinogen in water sources for seven years and have failed to share that information with the public, according to an advocacy group, which released a 2004 industry study of hexavalent chromium.

The American Water Works Association Research Foundation study focused on hexavalent chromium in groundwater sources nationwide. The AWWA report was obtained and released by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

The 124-page report features data from tests on 341 water samples from 189 water utilities in 41 states. About two-thirds of those samples came from groundwater sources, while another third came from surface sources. The report found hexavalent chromium nationwide, particularly in groundwater. The highest levels were found in California.

The study emphasizes that the “majority of the hexavalent chromium results were found to be less than” the current U.S. EPA Method Detection Limit. But it also concluded that conventional filtering systems used by water utilities in 2004 were typically ineffective in addressing hexavalent chromium.
–The New York Times

 Research: Invasive species could cost $1.4 trillion
The recent disasters in Japan may be driving increased resolve to plan for biological invasions of species, a crisis that can be as costly as natural disasters.

Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year of damage – 5 percent of the global economy – according to an article in this month’s “BioScience.”

The report by three biologists from McGill University in Montreal contends that biological invasions may be more damaging economically than natural disasters.

“Obviously, the disaster in Japan will bring to people’s attention the problem of rare extreme hazards,” said invasive species biologist Anthony Ricciardi, lead author of the report. “You never know when they are going to strike, or how costly they will be.”

Their proposal is simple: because biological invasions are similar to natural disasters, they require similar management strategies that are not currently in place in any nation. This includes safety codes and standards, emergency preparedness and rapid-response measures similar to those in place for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
–Medill Reports

Polls, wild rice, bats and fish kills

April 4, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Economy outranks environment in poll
What is more important to you: The economy or the environment?

 I you are reading this blog, you may choose the environment. But a recent Gallup poll showed most Americans chose economic development.

 Fifty-four percent of Americans gave a higher priority to economic growth than to protecting the environment, according to results of the poll. Thirty-six percent attached more priority to environmental protection.

 Since Gallup started asking the economy vs. environment question in 1984, Americans have generally favored the environment.

 The poll was conducted in early March, before an earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused the failure of several nuclear reactors.

 In a 2000 Gallup survey, Americans favored the environment over the economy, 67 percent to 28 percent.
–Gallup Inc.

Bill would change wild rice rules 
A bill that would water down Minnesota’s wild rice pollution rules passed the House and Senate in a vote that reflects a fundamental shift in environmental philosophy at a Legislature now controlled by Republicans.

The zeal to change the wild rice water quality standard is driven in part by the allure of a resurgence of Minnesota’s mining industry on the Iron Range. Supporters say the current standard imposes a heavy burden on business, and they are unwilling to wait for ongoing research to provide better guidance.

“It does not make sense for major expenditures of capital to be made to comply with a standard that we know is subject to change in the near term,” said Mike Robertson, an environmental consultant for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

But environmentalists charge that the bill, which dictates a fivefold increase in sulfate limits for wild rice, is just one example of a Republican preference for business interests over both clean water and environmental science.
–The Star Tribune

 Legacy $$ loom large in deficit debate
In what has become a biennial ritual of the deficit years, lawmakers are running their fingers through every pot of dedicated state money within reach as they labor to erase a multibillion-dollar deficit. But in 2011, most of the easy pickings have long since been taken – starting with $1 billion in tobacco lawsuit proceeds appropriated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature to help with a $4.3 billion deficit in 2003 – and legislators have already laid claim to roughly half of the $108 million in one of the few sizable dedicated funds still left intact, the Iron Range-specific Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund.

 But the most coveted, and most closely guarded, stash of all is the roughly $540 million in revenue from the 2008 Legacy sales tax amendment. Arts and environment advocates are already crying foul over lawmakers’ efforts to skirt the constitutional strictures governing Legacy spending.

 “It looks like there’s huge potential to do that, and I cannot see how you can legitimately spend the Legacy money in the way it has been proposed,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, the environment minority lead on the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–Politics in Minnesota

Virus blamed for Milwaukee fish kill 
A massive fish kill last month in the Milwaukee harbor has been linked to a deadly fish virus that was first discovered in Lake Michigan in 2007.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports it is the first time the disease known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been found in Lake Michigan waters since 2008.

VHS is sometimes referred to as a fish-specific version of the deadly Ebola. It is harmless to humans, but can affect several dozen fish species, including popular sport and commercial fish such as perch, trout and whitefish.

The virus targeted thousands of gizzard shad in last month’s fish kill. It’s the first time that species has tested positive for VHS in Wisconsin waters, according to the DNR. 

Nobody knows how the virus got into the Great Lakes, but a likely explanation is it was carried in by oceangoing freighters.
–The Milwaukee  Journal  Sentinel

 Wax cylinders clean groundwater
An experiment underway in a small Nebraska town may hold the answer to a common problem associated with industry — groundwater contamination.

 If the results are as successful as preliminary reports indicate, then researchers will have found a vastly cheaper and easier method that could then be applied to a wider range of contaminates found in the nation’s water supply.

 “We’re always looking for new, better ways to handle the contamination and obviously the cheaper the better, as long as it can be effectively and safely done,” said Ken Rapplean a project manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .

An estimated 15,000 sites across the country leach toxic chlorinated solvents into groundwater — anywhere an old landfill, dry cleaning facility or military installation might be found. Among the most common is a solvent typically used as a degreaser and metal parts cleaner, trichloroethylene or TCE.
–ABC News 

Notre Dame prof leads fight against invasives
When the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decided in March to ban the import and transport of bighead carp — one of the infamous Asian carp — under a century-old law called the Lacey Act, David Lodge had one reaction.  “It’s about time,” he said.

 It figures that Mr. Lodge, 54, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, would have a decided opinion. He has spent much of his career predicting which foreign species could harm the Great Lakes. And in the decades since Asian carp escaped Southern fish farms and began marauding up the Mississippi River, Mr. Lodge, a nationally known expert on invasives,  has become nearly as famous in some circles as the voracious fish.  

He has also been an advocate of using the Lacey Act to block Asian carp and other invasive species. Though the act is the sole federal defense against the importing of potentially devastating plants and animals, it covers only 20 groups of organisms. As with the carp, most were added to the list long after they became environmental hazards.
–Chicago News Cooperative

 Ground Water Association to meet
Sustainable water use will be the theme of the Minnesota Ground Water Association’s spring conference on May 4.

 Speakers include:  state Rep. Paul Torkelson, speaking about the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment;  Princesa VanBuren Hansen, speaking on the Environmental Quality Board’s 2010 Minnesota Water Plan; and Deborah Swackhamer, speaking on the 25-year water sustainability plan fo the state that was drafted by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center. 

Other speakers include: Jeanette Leete, speaking on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ process for defining groundwater management areas; and Lanya Ross, describing the Metropolitan Council’s water supply planning for the Twin Cities. 

The conference will be on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. For information and to register, go to www.mgwa.org.

 Members sought for Lake Superior council
The Governor’s Council on Minnesota’s Coastal Program, or Coastal Council for short, is seeking applications by April 15 for a number vacancies. There is a particular need for applications from people who live in Cook, Carlton and Lake counties. 

 
 

The Coastal Council is an integral element of Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program. As part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Ecological and Water Resources Division, the program mission is to preserve, protect, enhance and restore coastal resources for present and future generations. The program provides technical and financial assistance for local communities.

 The council is made up of 15 Governor-appointed individuals who have a passion for Lake Superior and the desire to make a difference. Members must have some knowledge and interest in Lake Superior.

 Experience reviewing grant applications is helpful, but not required. Council members are not compensated, but receive travel reimbursement and training. The time commitment is approximately 60 – 70 hours per year. Meetings are held at various locations along the North Shore including Duluth, Two Harbors and Grand Marais.

 For instruction on how to apply to the Coastal Council, contact Lisa Angelos, Coastal Program manager at 218-834-1443.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

 Alexandria-area fish kill reported
Around 300 dead fish were found in Lake Agnes and Lake Henry in open water areas after ice had melted. But both residents and experts said they’re not sure why.

 “All winter long, I’ve been fishing the lake (Henry), and I ran into a situation where we had a four to six foot column of fish, and all of the sudden, they disappeared. I could not find a fish on the lake,” Lake Henry resident and fisherman Rick Colden said.   

Colden isn’t the only one who’s had a hard time on the lakes, as more than 2,000 anglers failed to catch a fish at a tournament on the adjoining Lake Agnes on Feb. 12.

 But the recent evidence of fish kill may be to blame.

 “A lot of game fishes; walleye, bass, bluegill, some crappie, (were found dead). So certainly a concern,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor Dean Beck said.
–KSAX-TV

 Research: Bats are worth billions
Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the most overlooked economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, according to an analysis published in this week’s Science magazine Policy Forum. 

“People often ask why we should care about bats,” said Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey research scientist and one of the study’s authors. “This analysis suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests  —  these bats deserve help.” 

The value of the pest-control services to agriculture provided by bats in the U.S. alone range from a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion a year, estimated the study’s authors, scientists from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), USGS, University of Tennessee and Boston University.  They also warned that noticeable economic losses to North American agriculture could occur in the next 4 to 5 years as a result of emerging threats to bat populations. 
–USGS News Release

 

Study finds chemicals widely in streams

March 14, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Panoply of chemicals found in Minnesota streams
Potentially harmful chemicals and pharmaceuticals are widespread in Minnesota streams, state scientists found in a new study.

The study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also shows fish have genetic changes when exposed to the mix of chemicals.

 In the most comprehensive study of chemicals in Minnesota, the agency’s scientists collected water samples from 25 sewage treatment plants across Minnesota. They also sampled water upstream and downstream from the treatment plants for 78 chemicals.

Among the substances scientists most often found are the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine, a drug used to treat attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder, agency scientist Mark Ferrey said. They also found the antibiotic trimethoprim and anti-depressant compounds.

Other commonly found chemicals include components of detergent, bisphenol A, which is found in plastics, and contraceptive hormones.

 Scientists found chemicals at more than 90 percent of the locations they sampled and chemical traces at all locations. Researchers expected to find the chemicals flowing out of sewage treatment plants, but were somewhat surprised to also find the chemicals upstream from treatment plants.

Ferrey said that indicates other sources, such as septic systems, or agricultural runoff. He said the compounds are all found at very low concentrations, measured in parts per billion or parts per trillion.

 “But just because these concentrations are very, very low doesn’t mean they can’t have effects,” Ferrey said. “More and more results are coming out that show that these compounds can have pretty profound hormonal effects or estrogenic effects even at those concentrations.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 LCCMR funding debate continues
An advisory commission on funding environmental projects continues to wrestle with dozens of proposals being held up by the change in the majority party in the legislature.

 The LCCMR — the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — has new members with new priorities, and they’ve advised the group to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who chairs the House Environment Committee, said some emerging issues should take precedence.

“Chronic wasting disease, Asian carp, zebra mussel, the sulfate and wild rice is really important and that’s just evolved in last couple months,” McNamara said.

 Jeff Broberg, vice-chair of the group, said changing the list now would damage the LCCMR’s credibility.

“The long-term consequence of what’s happened here in the last couple weeks is that it will always be fiddled with,” Broberg said. “It has no stability or security no matter what we think is in the plan, that’s the big consequence we haven’t faced yet.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Canadians practice Asian carp war games
It’s not every day emergency response experts gather to test their readiness to deal with a fish.

 But the Asian carp is no ordinary fish, and so a boardroom in the Peterborough offices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is being turned into a temporary war room of sorts. It marks the first time government experts have come together to simulate an invasive-species emergency.

“We’ve run emergency-preparedness exercises before for influenza outbreaks,” said Eric Boysen, director of the MNR’s biodiversity branch. “We’ve done them for ice storms. We said we want to run one for Asian carp.”

While the Great Lakes are already home to 180 invasive species, the potential for the next invader to be an Asian carp is spurring both the provincial and federal governments into action.
–CBC

California cities prepare for rising seas
Cities along California’s coastline that for years have dismissed reports of climate change or lagged in preparing for rising sea levels are now making plans to fortify their beaches, harbors and waterfronts.

Communities up and down the coast have begun drafting plans to build up wetlands as buffers against rising tides, to construct levees and seawalls to keep the waters at bay or to retreat from the shoreline by moving structures inland.

Among them is Newport Beach, a politically conservative city where a council member once professed to not believe in global warming. Now, the wealthy beach city is considered to be on the forefront of preparing for climate change.

Though some in Newport Beach remain skeptical that global warming caused by humans is elevating sea levels, city planners are looking at raising seawalls by a foot or more to hold back the ocean. New homes along the city’s harbor are being built on foundations several feet higher than their predecessors as a precaution against flooding.
–The Los Angeles Times

GOP spending plan targets EPA
The House spending bill passed last month wouldn’t just chop $60 billion from the federal budget — it seeks to cut a broad swath through environmental regulation.

From fish protections in California to water pollution limits in Florida and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, environmental programs were targets of the Republican budget resolution, which appears to have been as much about setting a political agenda as about deficit reduction.

Democrats have promised to block the environmental and other cuts in the Senate, where they hold a slim majority, and President Obama has raised the threat of a veto, making it unlikely that many of the hits in the proposal will survive. Lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating while they hash out a compromise.

But few expect the recently elected and highly motivated GOP majority in the House to give up. “I think they’re going to try and use every tactic in the book,” said Nick Loris, a research associate with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “This is largely what they came into office saying they were going to do.”
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA targets old California mercury mine
An abandoned mercury mine that for decades has sent polluted, orange waste into a creek that eventually feeds into San Francisco Bay is a threat to human health and should be added to a list of the nation’s worst polluted places, federal environmental regulators say.

The New Idria mercury mine in remote San Benito County was shuttered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972 because of pollution from piles of mine waste and the site’s towering blast furnace. For decades, however, the agency refused to add it to the National Priorities List, which qualifies a site for millions of dollars in federal Superfund cleanup funding.

The EPA proposed listing the site — a year and a half after The Associated Press reported that federal and state regulators had failed to clean it despite their own studies showing the mine was polluting nearby streams and making fish unsafe to eat. The Blue Ledge copper and cadmium mine, along the Rogue River near the Oregon border, is also being recommended for Superfund status.

“In 2010, we realized … that our previous investigations had not sampled in areas that were likely impacted (and) that the effects were likely much farther downstream than we previously thought,” a group of EPA mine experts said in an e-mailed response to questions from the AP about the proposed change.
–The Associated Press

U of Iowa hiring sustainability profs
The only resource that will sustain a population set to grow by 50 to 80 million people in the next 25 years is water.

Dave Dzombak, civil and environmental professor from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke to a crowd of nearly 50 at the University of Iowa Chemistry Building about the increasing demand for water and alternatives for water in thermoelectric power production.

And in the quest for water sustainability, it’s time to move forward, Dzombak said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot these days about our various footprints,” said Dzombak. “The real challenge is to decrease resource consumption.”

As experts put more emphasis on water sustainability, the UI is keeping pace.

The university’s Water Sustainability Initiative established the Water Sustainability Cluster Steering Committee in 2009 in order to improve research in water sustainability. The initiative’s current goal is to hire 10 faculty to study the topic.

Jerald Schnoor, head of the initiative, said the 3-year-period hiring process is on schedule. Two faculty have already been hired, offers have been extended to two more and searches for three additional faculty are underway.
–The Daily Iowan

 Pennsylvania rivers scrutinized
Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.

 The results come at a time of growing scrutiny of the potential hazards of radioactivity and other contaminants in wastewater fom natural-gas drilling. The wastewater is routinely sent to treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which then discharge their waste into rivers.

 In a letter sent to the state, the federal Environmental Protection Agency noted the state’s test results, but instructed officials there to perform testing within 30 days for radioactivity at drinking-water intake plants.

 It also said that all permits issued by the state to treatment plants handling this waste should be reviewed to ensure that operators were complying with the law.
–The New York Times