Archive for the ‘drought’ Category

White Bear Lake nears record low

October 2, 2012

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

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

Advertisements

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

Gray water, revived rivers, and a new day for Venetian tap water

June 15, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

Mussel revival targets Mississippi
Federal divers waded into the Mississippi River looking for signs of life. Finding the winged mapleleaf mussels that had been planted last fall downstream from the Ford Dam would give hope that even sensitive native species can once again survive there.

“Forty or fifty years ago you couldn’t find anything alive in this section of the river, let alone think about reintroducing an endangered species here,” said Byron Karns, biologist for the National Park Service.

Karns and another diver swam parallel upstream, feeling their way along the murky bottom about 25 feet from shore and towing a float with a bright orange safety flag. They were looking for two containers, each about the size of a salad-mixing bowl. Each held five winged mapleleaf mussels — named for a small extension of the shell that resembles a wing — that scientists had helped to propagate and nurture since late 2004.
–The Star Tribune

Venice promotes l’acqua del sindaco
In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.
–The New York Times

Groundwater sends mercury to sea, fish
Groundwater flowing into the ocean may be a significant source of a highly toxic form of mercury, University of California scientists say.

The group headed by researchers at UC Santa Cruz found high levels of methylmercury in underwater flows at Stinson Beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and at Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County, south of San Francisco.

The study suggests that groundwater may be as big a source of mercury in coastal waters as mercury deposited from atmospheric pollution.

Methylmercury accumulates in the food chain, leading to levels in some sea food that can be dangerous if too much is consumed.

“The big question for public health is, ‘Where is all the mercury in seafood coming from?'” says coauthor Russell Flegal, a professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz. “What we have shown is that methylmercury is coming from groundwater in California at surprisingly high levels.”
–United Press International

WA farmers object to water rights transfer
Conservation groups and farmers are opposing a June 11 decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to approve a water rights transfer for a proposed large feedlot on dry land near the small town of Eltopia, about 75 miles east of Yakima, according to a June 12 Associated Press (AP) report.

Easterday Ranches Inc., one of the largest feedlot operators in the Northwest, has said the proposed feedlot, which it hopes to begin building later this summer, could accommodate as many as 30,000 cattle at peak operation. The feedlot still requires a state air quality permit.

The Department of Ecology approved the water rights transfer for the project from a neighboring farm that used 316 acre-feet of water annually to irrigate potatoes, blue grass and winter wheat. The department estimated that a feedlot of 30,000 cattle would consume more than 500,000 gallons of water daily.
–Water Tech Online

Congress urged to protect fish from drugs
Pollution experts pressed a congressional panel for stronger action to keep pharmaceuticals and other contaminants out of the water, saying they are hurting fish and may threaten human health.

Thomas P. Fote, a New Jersey conservationist who sits on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the pollutants are damaging commercial fisheries. He told congressmen not to “study a problem to death and never do anything.”

Fote appeared in a lineup of witnesses before the subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee. The witnesses pointed to research showing damage to fish and other aquatic species from pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals, especially those that alter growth-regulating endocrine systems. Some scientists worry about the potential of similar harm to humans.
–The Associated Press

Report released on endocrine disruptors
The Endocrine Society — conducting its annual meeting in Washington, DC, — has released a 50+ page detailed Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

According to the EPA, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic a natural hormone, fool the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., thyroid hormone that results in hyperthyroidism), or respond at inappropriate times (e.g., producing thyroid hormone when it is not needed). Other endocrine disrupting chemicals block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. thyroid hormones required for normal development). Still others directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (e.g. an over or underactive thyroid). Certain drugs are used to intentionally cause some of these effects, such as birth control pills. In many situations involving environmental chemicals, however, an endocrine effect is not desirable.

American endocrinologists have not formally weighed in on the issue in depth until the release of the statement. You can download a free copy of this PDF document online now.
–Endocrine Society news release

Recycling gray water cheaply, safely
A severe drought out West continues to threaten farms, fish, and water supplies to nearly everyone. Tighter water restrictions went into effect this month in much of Southern California, and the federal government issued a directive that could cut water delivery to farmers and residents in the state by 7 percent.

But some believe California is missing out on a key conservation method that’s already available.

Susan Carpenter breaks California state plumbing code three times a week. Her accomplice is her washing machine. Rinse water from washing machines usually goes into the sewer — so what if you could recycle it? That’s what Carpenter does, using it to water plants at her Southern California home.
–National Public Radio

German scientists distill water from air
Not a plant to be seen, the desert ground is too dry. But the air contains water, and research scientists have found a way of obtaining drinking water from air humidity. The system is based completely on renewable energy and is therefore autonomous.

Cracks permeate the dried-out desert ground, the landscape bears testimony to the lack of water. But even here, where there are no lakes, rivers or groundwater, considerable quantities of water are stored in the air. In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart working in conjunction with their colleagues from the company Logos Innovationen have found a way of converting this air humidity autonomously and decentrally into drinkable water.
–Science Daily

St. Croix River case goes to Supreme Court
Broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard’s new house on the St. Croix River is finished and his family has moved in, but his three-year fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources isn’t over.

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hubbard’s case last week.

“This case is about property rights,” Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said. “It is a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”

The DNR asked the Supreme Court to review a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that favored Hubbard.

Hubbard bought a 3.8-acre parcel on the river in Lakeland for $1.6 million in April 2006. He planned to knock down a small cabin on the property and build a much larger house on the cabin’s footprint. He asked for and received permission from Lakeland officials to set the footprint of the house closer to the bluff line than rules allow.

But that fall, officials from the DNR, which manages the federally protected scenic riverway, refused to sign off on the variances granted by Lakeland. According to the DNR, any new house must be built 40 feet from the bluff line.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gray water use now legal in Oregon
Reusing bath, laundry and sink water used to be illegal in eco-friendly Oregon, but no more.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill today that makes it OK to replumb your house to capture so-called “gray water” as a way to save water and dollars.

“This will allow us to water our garden with our bath water. It’s very simple,” said Brenna Bell, a citizen activist working to change state codes that block environmental practices
–Oregonlive.com

Water is the next carbon
Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Minnesota River making a comeback
One of the best parts of this job is “discovering” some unsung Minnesota treasure and singing its praises.

In some cases, the intent is to prod St. Paul policymakers to lift a finger to see that the treasure survives for future generations.

Yet the case already has been made — often — to preserve the Minnesota River. My plea here is for more Minnesotans to consider this river’s fishery. It is truly unsung, amazing and worth improving upon.

Remarkably, paddlefish are returning in these waters, which once were an open sewer for river communities and industry. Another returnee and pollution-sensitive species, lake sturgeon, is increasingly being caught. Giant flathead catfish in excess of 50 pounds are beginning to lure anglers from as far as Texas.
— St. Paul Pioneer Press

US. Canada agree to re-open negotiations on Great Lakes Pact
Canada and the U.S. have agreed to renegotiate their pact on protecting the Great Lakes.

In her first trip to Canada since becoming the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on  Saturday to announce the reopening of the Great Lakes agreement, which was created in 1972 and last amended 22 years ago.

The move is being cheered by environmentalists and politicians who say the Great Lakes agreement is in desperate need of an overhaul to deal with growing and new threats such as invasive species and climate change.
–The Hamilton Spectator

EPA plans public meeting on Cass Lake cleanup
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting June 23 to update Cass Lake residents on the development of cleanup plans for ground water at the former St. Regis Paper wood treatment facility. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., at Leech Lake Tribal College, Room 100, A-Wing, 113 Balsam N.W., Cass Lake.

The EPA is working with International Paper Co. and BNSF, as well as the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to develop options to permanently reduce health risks at the Superfund  site.  A feasibility study to evaluate a number of options is under way.

Once the study is complete, EPA will propose a recommended approach and present it to area residents. A public hearing will likely occur in late 2009 or early 2010.  The June 23 meeting will provide a progress report and give citizens an opportunity to ask questions of EPA and its partners.

The St. Regis Paper Superfund site was a wood treatment facility that operated from about 1958 to 1985.  The site was initially cleaned up in the 1980s by its former owner, Champion International.  International Paper is the current property owner and continues to treat groundwater from the site.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/region5/sites/stregis/.
–U.S. EPA news release

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, beavers are back
The dozens of public works officials, municipal engineers, conservation agents and others who crowded into a meeting room here one recent morning needed help. Property in their towns was flooding, they said. Culverts were clogged. Septic tanks were being overwhelmed.

We have a huge problem,” said David Pavlik, an engineer for the town of Lexington, Mass. where dams built by beavers have sent water flooding into the town’s sanitary sewers. “We trapped them,” he said. “We breached their dam. Nothing works. We are looking for long-term solutions.”

Mary Hansen, a conservation agent from Maynard, said it starkly: “There are beavers everywhere.”
–The New York Times

Georgia declares end to two-year drought
Georgia lifted tough outdoor water restrictions and declared an end to the drought that has gripped much of the state since late 2007.

The move takes effect immediately.

“This drought has ended,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. “Our water supplies are flush. Our rivers and streams have rebounded.”

At a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, Couch said that Georgia is moving to non-drought water rules. Homeowners can now water their lawns three days a week, based on whether they have an odd or even street addresses.
–Rome News-Tribune

Declining aquifers, superfund sites and dust storms

April 27, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Superfund program chronically underfunded
The Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most contaminated industrial sites was established nearly 30 years ago on the principle that those responsible for toxic pollution should pay for it.

So why is the government spending $600 million in stimulus money to work on sites like the defunct arsenic-fouled Vineland Chemical Company plant here in South Jersey?
–The New York Times

Wisconsin plans tough rules on invasives
Wisconsin officials advanced a major package of regulations designed to control the movement of invasive plants, fish and animals.

The Natural Resources Board voted, 7-0, on rules designed to fight non-native invaders that pose environmental and economic peril.

After the vote, the Department of Natural Resources said the measure – five years in the making – represents the first time a state has developed a comprehensive rule to fight the spread of invasive species.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Democrats debate softer climate rule
House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are negotiating among themselves on whether to scale back legislation that would impose a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases, with some conservatives and moderates calling for electric utilities to be given free pollution allowances and for more modest cuts in the targets for reducing emissions.
–The Washington Post

Dust storms increase in the West
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet, and surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, Silverton, Colo., seems an unlikely place for a dust storm, especially with two feet of snow on the ground. So Chris Landry was alarmed on the afternoon of April 3 when he spotted a brown haze on the horizon; an hour later, a howling wind had engulfed the town in a full-fledged dust storm, turning everything from the sky to the snow a rusty red.

“It was almost surreal,” recalled Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The landscape looked like Mars after the storm passed, he said: “You could feel the dust, you could taste the dust.”
–The Washington Post

Louisiana aquifer steadily declining
Some areas in north Louisiana have lost one-third of their drinking water supplied exclusively by the Sparta aquifer.

For nearly 50 years, water levels in the Sparta aquifer have been declining by about two feet per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sixteen parishes in north Louisiana depend either entirely or partially on the Sparta aquifer for their potable water, but the groundwater source is being used faster than it can be replenished.
–Shreveport Times

Energy tax credit gives billions to paper companies
Paper companies in Minnesota and across the nation have figured out how to make billions off of an alternative energy tax credit that Congress devised two years ago. Their answer: burn diesel.

This rather paradoxical twist has already ignited a debate between the paper industry and environmental groups and lawmakers on both sides of the argument in what some industry watchers and analysts are claiming is a presage of fights to come as Congress tries to detail new climate and energy legislation this session.
–Minnpost.com

Research questions sustainability of Colorado River uses
The Colorado River is a critical source of water for seven Western states, each of which gets an annual allotment according to a system that has sparked conflict and controversy for decades. But in an era of climate change, even greater difficulties loom.

The scope of those potential problems is detailed in a study being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography report that under various forecasts of the effects of warming temperatures on runoff into the Colorado, scheduled future water deliveries to the seven states are not sustainable.
–The New York Times

Gas drillers must account for water use, court rules
Energy companies drilling natural gas from underground coal seams must obtain water well permits or replace the water they use if other water supplies are affected, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

Groundwater pumped out during coal-bed methane drilling is not just a waste product, the court said, ruling on a lawsuit by landowners who say their water supplies are threatened by companies using groundwater to free natural gas in coal seams.
–The Associated Press

Illinois investigation of tainted water begun
Gov. Pat Quinn is demanding answers from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about why residents of south suburban Crestwood weren’t notified that the village had pumped drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals for more than two decades.

In response to a Tribune investigation that revealed the village’s secret use of a polluted well, Quinn directed his senior staff to conduct a thorough review of the EPA’s actions in Crestwood. Among other things, the governor wants to know why the agency didn’t invoke a 2005 law requiring the state to issue a notification when residents could be exposed to soil or groundwater pollution.
–The Chicago Tribune

California begins $4 million conservation effort
Californians should take shorter showers, wash only full loads of laundry and use a broom instead of a hose to clean their driveways.

Those are some of the steps the state is promoting as part of a $4 million statewide public education campaign.
–The Associated Press

EPA to stiffen reporting requirements
The federal government will once again require companies to fully disclose the toxic chemicals they release into the air, onto land and into water.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was reversing a decision by the Bush administration in 2006 that reduced reporting of toxic pollution for more than 3,500 facilities nationwide.
–The Associated Press

Soybeans, a river on fire and zebra mussels

April 13, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Soybean farmers object to river research
What started as a $600,000 project to improve water quality in rural Minnesota is in jeopardy after soybean growers protested, causing funders to reconsider and send the money to more cooperative states.

The controversy centers around a $5 million initiative that Monsanto Co., which produces seeds and herbicide, announced last December in an attempt to reduce fertilizer runoff and sediment in the Mississippi River. It planned to work with farmers and conservation groups to measure whether different methods of fertilizing, tilling, and filtering runoff improved stream water quality or affected crop yields.

But now the Nature Conservancy, which is overseeing the studies, says objections by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association have made it likely that at least $125,000 of the three-year grant destined for southeastern Minnesota will be diverted to similar projects in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — where soybean farmers have not objected.
–The Star Tribune

Environmental Education Week set
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has declared the week of April 12 – 18, 2009, as Environmental Education Week.

The state designation coincides with the National Environmental Education Foundation’s efforts to increase the educational impact of Earth Day by creating a full week of educational preparation, learning and activities in K-12 classrooms, nature centers, zoos, museums and aquariums. National Environmental Education Week is the largest organized environmental education event in the United States.

In support of Environmental Education Week’s 2009 theme, “Be Water Wise!,” more than 2,000 partner organizations around the country will participate with a week’s worth of environmentally-themed lessons, field trips and special events.

For more information about Environmental Education Week programming around the country, visit www.eeweek.org.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Environmentalism caught fire from the Cuyahoga
Environmentalists observing 2009 as “The Year of the River” are celebrating the remarkable return to health of the Cuyahoga River over the last four decades.

But before there was a Cuyahoga comeback, the Cuyahoga was a catalyst.

When the oily, murky and sluggish waterway caught fire in June 1969, it not only caught the attention of a previously indifferent industrial nation — it also ignited an already smoldering ecological movement.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Zebra mussel shells found in Prior Lake
Empty zebra mussel shells have been discovered in Prior Lake, prompting state officials to ask boaters and anglers using the popular southwest metro lake to take extra precautions.

A homeowner recently found about a dozen empty shells of the invasive mussel along the southeastern shore of lower Prior Lake, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Officials, however, aren’t certain whether the shells came from live mussels in the lake or were brought there on equipment and fell off. The DNR said its staff soon will search the lake for more of them. If any are found, it said, the lake will be designated as infested.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Research challenges biological maxim
Scientists have produced strong new evidence challenging one of the most fundamental assumptions in biology: that female mammals, including women, are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

In a provocative set of experiments involving mice, Chinese researchers have shown for the first time that an adult mammal can harbor primitive cells in her ovaries that can become new eggs and produce healthy offspring, they reported yesterday.

While much more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the work raises the tantalizing possibility that it could someday lead to new ways to fight a woman’s biological clock, perhaps by stockpiling her egg-producing cells or by stimulating them to make eggs again.
–The Washington Post

Drought lowers White Bear Lake
Gary Christenson’s dock stretches for 340 feet.

It’s still a few yards shy of getting wet in White Bear Lake.

“We think the dock will be 600 feet this year,” said the geologist, who lives on the lake’s northwest shore. “Six hundred feet – then I give up. Then I quit.”

Christenson’s dock is an extreme example of what a long, mild drought, combined with White Bear’s small watershed, has done to the east metro’s largest body of water.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

PBS to air ‘Poisoned Waters’ documentary
Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief for the Obama Administration, asserted at a forum for the PBS Frontline documentary “Poisoned Waters” that new legislation is needed to strengthen the EPA’s authority to control pollution and protect local rivers, streams and wetlands across America.

Jackson, speaking at the National Press Club, said that court decisions had left “murkiness” about the EPA’s authority to enforce some mandates of the Clean Water Act. She said EPA would seek new legislation to “clarify” its authority to take action on smaller waterways.

The two-hour documentary, to be aired on PBS on April 21, shows sobering evidence of America’s failure over the past 35 years to contain water contamination from agricultural waste, stormwater run-off, and now, a new wave of chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, most of which have no safety standard set by the EPA. The danger to human health from these chemicals in the environment and in drinking water systems was underscored Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
–PR News Wire

Invasive ash borers found near Minnesota border
Minnesota inspectors are poring over the southeastern tip of the state for signs of emerald ash borers, an invasive beetle that has killed millions of ash trees in 10 other states.

An infestation of the small, metallic-green beetle was discovered near the Wisconsin town of Victory along the Mississippi River, only a mile southeast of the Minnesota-Iowa border and 20 miles south of La Crosse, Wis. It was the first appearance in western Wisconsin.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Proposed 30,000-cow feedlot raises water worries
Scott Collins’ family has been farming in arid eastern Washington since his great grandfather first homesteaded the 1,500-acre, dry-land wheat farm more than a century ago.

But the 58-year-old Collins fears he may be the last of four generations on the farm.

That is because the groundwater he and his family depend on could be in jeopardy if a proposed cattle feedlot and other industrial-sized projects like it are built in his rural Franklin County.
–The New York Times

ADM plans to bury C02 deep underground
The drillers have gnawed through a mile of rock here, almost down to a 600-million-year-old layer of sandstone where they hope to bury about 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — equal to the annual emissions of 220,000 automobiles.

The $84-million project, of which $66.7 million comes from the Energy Department, will help determine whether storing greenhouse gases underground, so-called sequestration, is a viable solution for global warming.

The project by Archer Daniels Midland Co., in which greenhouses gases from a corn mill will be buried beneath shale, is important because it’s the furthest along of the seven federally sponsored partnerships nationwide to study the matter.
–The Los Angeles Times

Assault planned on invasive pondweed
When common carp were purposely introduced to Minnesota lakes sometime before 1900, they apparently brought along another visitor that today is just as reviled as the big rough fish: a water plant called curly-leaf pondweed.

A century after the aggressive pondweed was discovered in state waters, agencies from cities to watershed districts to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have declared war on the invader. Now, the results of contrasting eradication efforts in three conjoined lakes in Eden Prairie and Bloomington could help shape future efforts to contain curly-leaf pondweed.

Near the end of this month or early in May, herbicide will be applied to Southeast Anderson Lake in Bloomington in the first of four annual chemical treatments to kill pondweed.
–The Star Tribune

Texas report calls for linking energy and water
A joint report from the University of Texas and an environmental group urges state planners to conserve both water and energy.

The report released Monday claims that improving water conservation will cut power demand and that upgrades in energy efficiency will decrease water needs, allowing Texas to utilize “finite supplies of both” and cut consumers’ costs.

One recommendation in the report, which the Environmental Defense Fund helped prepare, requires studies to determine how much water is available for use at new fossil-fueled or concentrated solar power plants.
–The Associated Press

Oregon Zoo tries to restore native frogs
The small, elegantly colored frogs raised in a humid backroom at the Oregon Zoo have already defied the odds. Now, they will try to defy a grim fate.

About 120 rare Oregon spotted frogs, raised from eggs and overwintered to grow as large as possible, will be released into a wetland near Olympia. If they survive, the frogs could be the first wave in restoration of threatened native frogs that have been losing their battles for survival.

Once common from southwest British Columbia to northwest California, rana pretiosa — precious frog — has been decimated by habitat loss and invasive species such as the American bullfrog. But a partnership of scientists, state officials and zoos hopes to counter the dismaying trend.

A year ago, biologists gathered portions of the frogs’ gelatinous egg masses from Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Mount Adams in Washington state and delivered them to the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Wash., for rearing.
–The Portland Oregonian

Antarctica glaciers lose huge chunks of ice shelves
Antarctica’s glaciers are melting more rapidly than previously known because of climate change, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report prepared in close collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey.

The USGS study documents for the first time that one ice shelf has completely disappeared and another has lost a chunk three times the size of Rhode Island.  This research is part of a larger ongoing project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline.

“This study provides the first insight into the extent of Antarctica’s coastal and glacier change,” Salazar noted.  “The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing-more rapidly than previously known– as a consequence of climate change.  The scientific work of USGS, which is investigating the impacts of climate change around the world, including an ongoing examination of glaciers, is a critical foundation of the Administration’s commitment to combat climate change.”

The USGS study focuses on Antarctica, which is the earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice. In a separate study published in today’s Geophysical Letters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that ice is melting much more rapidly than expected in the Arctic as well, based on new computer analyses and recent ice measurements.
–U.S. Geological Survey

World water supply, invasive weeds and PFCs

March 16, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

UN report: World’s water in peril
Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, according to a landmark UN report.

Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.
–AFP news service

Judge narrows PFC lawsuit against 3M
An enormous lawsuit over water is getting smaller.
In a ruling, a judge limited a lawsuit charging that chemicals manufactured by the 3M Co. polluted water and hurt Washington County homeowners.

Washington County District Judge Mary Hannon ruled the chemicals — PFCs, or perfluorochemicals — found in drinking water cannot legally be considered a “nuisance.” She said the term defines something that impairs the use or enjoyment of someone’s property and that homeowners’ inconveniences, such as having to buy a $30 filtration system, were relatively minor.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin considers state rules on ballast water
Wisconsin is poised to become the next Great Lakes state with its own rules for ballast water in ships, and critics say it could kill the overseas shipping business.

Ballast water is blamed for carrying harmful plants or animals from overseas into the Great Lakes. Minnesota and Michigan recently adopted ballast permit regulations. But some worry that Wisconsin’s new proposal is too tough.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wisconsin DNR fights manure pollution
Steve Haak and the Sugar River go way back.

Now 46, Haak was only 8 when he caught his first fish from the river where it ran near the family’s farm south of Paoli. He was with his grandfather and caught the 18-inch brown trout on a cane pole.

“From then on, I was pretty much hooked,” said Haak, who now farms just down the road from the farm on which he grew up.
–Wisconsin State Journal

Lake or wetlands: Which will get the mine waste?
Sitting like a turquoise gem in a bowl of hemlock, Sitka spruce and ice, Berners Bay has long been a jewel of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Berners Bay also has become one of the epicenters of a new Alaska gold rush. High in the snowy peaks at the top of the bay, miners struck an estimated 1.4 million ounces of gold — a prize that is looking better every day as investors flee the stock market.
–Los Angeles Times

Invasive weed seeds found in Baltimore harbor
An inspection aboard a Turkish freighter at one of the city’s ports by agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency revealed the presence of cogon grass weed seed, an invasive seed from Asia that quickly spreads and disrupts ecosystems, reduces wildlife habitat and decreases tree seeding growth, said a spokesman for the agency.

Steve Sapp, the spokesman, said the pest-like seed, known as Red Baron grass after the World War I German fighter ace, was found during a routine inspection littered among wood packing in a container of tile from Turkey. Sapp said the seed is considered one of the 10 worst invasive plant species in the world and is listed as a federal noxious weed.
–The Baltimore Sun

Cost, politics complicate water’s future
Anyone who has visited Disneyland recently and taken a sip from a drinking fountain there may have unknowingly sampled a taste of the future — a small quantity of water that once flowed through a sewer.

Orange County Water District officials say that’s a good thing — the result of a successful, year-old project to purify wastewater and pump it into the ground to help restore depleted aquifers that provide most of the local water supply.
–Reuters

Natural resource spending up in Obama budget
After years of flat or declining funding, natural resource agencies expect to see a significant boost in the 2010 budget along with a leftward shift in policies and priorities.

Beyond the increased funds for many Interior Department agencies, the budget proposal as President Obama has outlined thus far focuses on acquiring more public land, addressing climate change issues and raising fees on the oil and gas industry.
–The New York Times

Texas groundwater districts controversial
For Parker County resident Kathy Chruscielski, moving to the
country a decade ago seemed like the best of both worlds. She fell in love with the scenic rolling hills of Remuda Ranch Estates, a few miles west of the Tarrant County line.

“We have these beautiful hills, yet we can be in Fort Worth within a matter of minutes,” Chruscielski said. “It’s like having one foot in the country and one in the city.”

She learned that it has its downside.

In January 2002, Chruscielski was forced to drill a new well after her old one went dry.

“They told us when we bought this place that groundwater levels had remained the same for the last 40 years,” Chruscielski said with a rueful laugh. “Then I learned differently.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Climate change pushes search for water in the West
It’s hard to visualize a water crisis while driving the lush boulevards of Los Angeles, golfing Arizona’s green fairways or watching dancing Las Vegas fountains leap more than 20 stories high.

So look Down Under. A decade into its worst drought in a hundred years Australia is a lesson of what the American West could become.
–Reuters

EPA plans greenhouse gas registry
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to establish a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.

The registry plan would cover about 13,000 facilities that account for 85 to 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas output. It was drafted under the Bush administration but stalled after the Office of Management and Budget objected to it because the EPA based the rule on its powers under the Clean Air Act.
–The Washington Post

Many think media exaggerate climate change
More Americans are skeptical about the seriousness of global warming than ever before, according to a survey released by the Gallup organization.

A record 41 percent now say news coverage of global warming is exaggerated, while 57 percent say coverage is generally on the mark or underestimated. As recently as 2006, Gallup found that 30 percent viewed news coverage of global warming as exaggerated vs. 66 who did not.
–Star Tribune

IBM wants to help manage water
IBM Corp. wants to get really deep into water.

The technology company is launching a new line of water services, hoping to tap a new sales vein by taking the manual labor out of fighting pollution and managing water supplies. IBM says the overall water-management services market could be worth $20 billion in five years.
–The Associated Press

Transmission line gets mixed reviews
The Great Plains have been called “the Saudi Arabia of wind energy.” But because the windiest areas tend to be sparsely populated, much of that wind power might go unused without a way to move the energy to where the people are.

Now a Michigan company is proposing to build a 765-kilovolt transmission line called “The Green Power Express” from the gusty Dakotas through Minnesota to Chicago. The 3,000-mile project, which is estimated to cost $10 billion to $12 billion, could be among the first of a new generation of energy superhighways that help the Midwest feed the nation’s appetite for renewable energy.
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

Chicago pushes homeowners to accept water meters
Some Chicagoans with homes built before the mid-1970s could get city water meters installed free with a guarantee their bills won’t rise beyond regular rate increases for seven years.

The offer was approved by a City Council committee as part of a $15 million test program called MeterSave.
–The Chicago Tribune

Suffolk County, NY, fights nitrate pollution
More than 300 landscapers crammed into a stuffy lower-level room at the Holiday Inn here recently, listening to the whys and wherefores of the new laws for keeping lawns green in Suffolk County while minimizing nitrogen pollution.

Suffolk, which has a long history of environmental regulation, is laying down the law as never before about nitrogen, a principal ingredient in the lawn fertilizers used by landscapers and homeowners but also a worsening threat to groundwater.
–The New York Times

Invasives drill may cause Superior harbor to blush
A shipping company and the National Park Service are getting together to find an effective way to kill invasive species in a ship’s ballast tanks under emergency conditions. As ships can run aground or have accidents, the question is how to best handle a high-risk ship from a high-risk port that might be carrying invasive species.

The experiment may leave the Superior Harbor a bit on the pink side. The plan is to inject a red dye into six ballast tanks in an American Steamship Company vessel in a lower Great Lakes port. Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green says they’ll use harmless rhodamine dye instead of chemicals designed to sterilize ballast tanks.
–Wisconsin Public Radio/Superior Telegram

Acidification of oceans affects tiny organisms
There’s now a good piece of direct evidence that the increasing acidification of the oceans, brought on by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is affecting the ability of small marine organisms to create shells.

The evidence comes from foraminifera, crunchy plankton that float by the untold billions in the ocean.
–The New York Times

EPA reviewing ethanol and climate change
For years, ethanol has been touted as a solution to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the EPA is looking at whether ethanol lives up to that reputation.

If the agency decides against ethanol, the ruling could have a major impact on tens of thousands of people in rural Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA sued over phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set more protective pollution standards for Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries.

The suit, filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Save Our Creeks, Inc., argues that nutrient pollution in the lake has caused toxic algae blooms, which can contaminate drinking water supplies and sicken people and animals.
–Environment News Service

Kinder, gentler wildlife biologists
You may remember Senator John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. And you may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies.

The answer is hair. The study, which Mr. McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park.
–The New York Times

Court sides with Colorado on fees in water suit
The Supreme Court has rejected claims by Kansas that it is owed $9 million in legal fees from Colorado over their century-long dispute over water rights to the Arkansas River.

In an opinion, the court is upholding a ruling by a special master appointed to oversee the case that the fees for expert witnesses should be about $163,000, not the $9 million sought by Kansas.
–The Associated Press

Phenology, tap water ads and lynx

March 9, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

Volunteers sought for phenology survey
Volunteers across the nation are being recruited to get outdoors and help track the effects of climate on seasonal changes in plant and animal behavior.

The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), a consortium of government, academic and citizen-scientists, is launching a new national program built on volunteer observations of flowering, fruiting and other seasonal events. Scientists and resource managers will use these observations to track effects of climate change on the Earth’s life-support systems.

“This program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it,” said USA-NPN Executive Director and U.S. Geological Survey scientist Jake Weltzin. “We encourage everyone to visit the USA National Phenology Network Web site and then go outside and observe the marvelous cycles of plant and animal life.”
–U.S. Geological Survey

Tap water advertising campaign expands
A project that originated at a boutique ad agency to help UNICEF deliver clean drinking water to children in developing countries is expanding in its third year as more firms join to support the cause.

The Tap Project, as the initiative is called, is adding cities and sponsors and is going bilingual with ads in Spanish as well as English. It takes place this year during World Water Week, which begins on March 22.
–The New York Times

Forest owners hope to cash in on carbon sequestration
The north woods of Minnesota hold one key to fending off the effects of global climate change. The trees, the soil, and the humus on the forest floor all store carbon. Some land owners think there may eventually be a profit to be made from that carbon storage.
–Minnesota Public Radio

U.S. to revise policy on lynx habitat
Soon some immigrants will find life easier in Minnesota and the rest of the United States: A proposed change in the management of land roamed by the Canada lynx would broaden protections for the big cat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its critical habitat designation for the lynx, which has been the subject of controversy and court actions in the last few years. The proposal preceded an announcement Tuesday by President Obama to resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.
–Minnpost.com

EPA plans new rules on coal ash retention ponds
The Obama administration will propose new regulations governing coal combustion waste by the end of the year, and will act immediately to prevent accidents like the release in December of more than a billion gallons of coal ash that smothered 300 acres in eastern Tennessee and choked nearby waterways, a senior Environmental Protection Agency official said.

The spill, at the Kingston Fossil Plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority near Knoxville, brought renewed attention to the agency’s failure to live up to a promise in 2000 to issue regulations for coal ash, which contains toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury.
–The New York Times

DNR merger protested
When the Department of Natural Resources announced that it was merging its divisions of Ecological Resources and Waters into a single division, it might not have anticipated much reaction.

After all, those divisions generally aren’t nearly as visible as the Fish and Wildlife Division. But Jeff Broberg noticed.
–Star Tribune

Grassroots Japanese protest opposes river dam
First, the farmers objected to an ambitious dam project proposed by the government, saying they did not need irrigation water from the reservoir. Then the commercial fishermen complained that fish would disappear if the Kawabe River’s twisting torrents were blocked. Environmentalists worried about losing the river’s scenic gorges. Soon, half of this city’s 34,000 residents had signed a petition opposing the $3.6 billion project.
–The New York Times

The Apostle Islands: Coming to a coin near you?
Wisconsin has nominated the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to appear in a new series of quarters depicting national parks.

The U.S. Mint plans to begin issuing quarters in the series starting next year. The quarters will roll out over 11 years.
–The Associated Press

Florida water woes worsen
The latest report from the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows aquifer levels are continuing to fall.

According to the district’s March 6 Aquifer Resource Weekly Update, the central aquifer, which is a water source for the Tampa Bay region, is down to a negative 1.69 feet. Last week, the aquifer was at negative 1.65 feet. The normal range is between 0 and 6 feet.
–Tampa Bay Newspapers

California farming town prepares for drought Armageddon
Shawn Coburn is barreling down a country road in his white Ford F-150 pickup, talking about how California’s water crisis darkly reminds him of a scene from a movie aptly named “Armageddon.”

“Billy Bob Thornton tells Bruce Willis that a huge asteroid is approaching Earth,” says Coburn, 40. “Willis asks Thornton who will get hurt, and Thornton tells him that he just doesn’t get it — that everyone will be dead, that the game is over.”

The disaster coming this spring and summer is no movie, and nothing menacing is falling from the sky.
–San Jose Mercury News

Sacramento considers selling wastewater
Californians have grown accustomed to digesting odd ideas that routinely flow out of Sacramento, many of them not so palatable.

But are they ready for this one?

Last week, amid a third year of a statewide drought, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District adopted a strategy to sell treated sewage as drinking water. The buyer would hypothetically partner with the district to recycle wastewater from the capital-area’s 1.4 million people into a new municipal water source.
–The Sacramento Bee

Wisconsin to track golden eagles
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to strap small GPS units on golden eagles over the next three years to see where the birds go when they migrate from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.

The golden eagle is mostly a western bird and is plentiful from the Dakotas west to the Pacific Ocean. The national bird of Mexico, it also lives in northern Ontario, where it’s listed as a species of concern.
–The Associated Press

Chicago ponders water supply constraints
As Chicago’s population grows its water supply must too, but with overworked aquifers and legal constraints, local officials are looking for solutions.

“Even in this region, water resources are not infinite, they are finite,” said Daniel Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
–Medill Reports

Oregon experiments with conservation credits
Three years ago, Oregon looked ready to re-invent conservation banking. Instead of establishing separate banks to offset wetland damage and other habitat loss caused by transportation construction, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was going to roll it all into one package.

On this web site Bill Warncke, ODOT’s Mitigation and Conservation Program Coordinator, laid out an innovative approach that would address multiple resources simultaneously – including wetlands, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and endangered species.

Just months later, however, the plan was shelved.
–EcosystemMarketplace

Idaho fish farm squeezed out irrigators
The head of the Idaho Department of Water Resources has ordered hundreds of groundwater users in south-central Idaho to stop pumping, saying that a fish farm has first dibs on the limited resource.

The curtailment order came from David Tuthill. It is intended to ensure that Clear Springs Foods, a fish farm near Hagerman, has access to the water it needs to maintain the farm. Idaho law distributes water rights on a first-come, first-served basis, and the fish farm has an older, or senior, water right compared to the 865 junior water rights held by the roughly 430 people affected by the curtailment.
–The Associated Press