Archive for the ‘invasive species’ Category

World water sustainability; feedlot politics

July 25, 2011

Is the world running short of water?
Water, water, everywhere, but not enough to drink — at least not where it’s needed. That’s the dilemma that Indiana University geochemist Chen Zhu and colleagues explore in the current issue of Elements, a peer-reviewed publication sponsored by 16 geological societies.

Zhu serves as guest editor of the special issue on global water sustainability, along with Eric H. Oelkers of the University of Toulouse in France and Janet Hering of EAWAG, a Swiss research institute. In the lead article, “Water: Is There a Global Crisis?” they examine what seems to be a paradox:

 The Earth’s renewable water resources are 10 times as much as required by the demands of the current population. Yet an estimated 1 billion people lack safe drinking water, and poor water quality and management are responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths per year. While there is excess water in some parts of the globe, other areas face severe shortages or water that is ruined by pollution.

 “Is there really a water crisis? In a sense yes; our current water policy is unstable and unsustainable,” the editors write. “Yet, in contrast to non-renewable resources such as petroleum, we will not run out of water. The solution to this global water crisis is improved management of this valuable resource.”
 –Indiana University News Release

 Environment bill exempts big feedlots
Read a fine blog post by the Land Stewardship Project’s Brian DeVore on a Minnesota budget bill that eliminates a state permitting requirement for large livestock feedlots. 

Changes to federal regulations during the last Bush administration allowed operators of large feedlots to avoid applying for a Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit if they certify that they will not discharge pollutants to public waters. However, until now Minnesota law still required big feedlots to apply for and obtain the federal permit. The environmental spending bill approved last week dropped that requirement.

In his blog, DeVore criticizes both the law change affecting about 1,000 feedlots and the legislative practices that led to enactment of the change without public input.

 Park Rapids well hits nitrate limit
The water supply in the city of Park Rapids is contaminated with nitrates, and many suspect the source is the fertilizer used on local farm fields.

Park Rapids has had elevated nitrate levels in its water for years. But last April was the first time a city well exceeded 10 parts per million, the threshold for what’s considered safe. The well was shut down.

City administrator Bill Smith says residents aren’t panicking, they are concerned. Nitrate contamination can cause health problems. It’s especially dangerous for infants, who can get something called blue baby syndrome — when nitrates inhibit a baby’s ability to use oxygen.

Smith says some blame local farmers who put tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer on their fields. That includes the R.D. Offutt Company, or RDO — the largest potato grower in the U.S., and the community’s largest employer.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

Government’s role in the Asian carp debacle
If you say “Arkansas fish farms” and “Asian carp” in the same sentence, you can almost hear the boos and hisses. They’re the ones who let the fish escape into the wild, right?

Maybe not, although that’s the story that people hear over and over. It’s one of many myths about Asian carp that persist. It’s true that a fish farmer was the first to bring three species of Asian carp into the U.S., but from there, the carp ended up in the hands of government agencies that spawned them in research ponds, stocked them in sewage lagoons as an alternative to chemicals and experimented with canning bighead as a cheaper substitute for tuna.

 Heads of some of the state and federal agencies that raised the carp admit that they were lax in the 1970s and early 1980s, an era when no one was terribly concerned about invasive species, and that the fish are as likely to have escaped from government ponds as those of fish farmers.

 Farmers who have raised bighead carp since the 1980s say they were encouraged by government agencies to do so. Now that their carp crop was essentially banned last December, they say they feel they’re being unfairly punished for someone else’s misdeeds.
–The Detroit Free Press (One of a six-part Free Press series)

 Tests indicate Asian carp penetrate Chicago barrier
Even as the federal government insists its electric fish barrier is working just fine, evidence of Asian carp above that barrier continues to roll in.

 With no fanfare, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted on its website news that nine water samples taken above the barrier in recent weeks have tested positive for the giant, jumping fish. The federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

 Seven of those positive “environmental” DNA tests – taken between May 10 and June 27 – came from Lake Calumet south of downtown Chicago, a body of water that has a direct connection to Lake Michigan. 

The other two positive samples came from an area near downtown and an area north of downtown on the North Branch of the Chicago River.

 Lake Calumet also is the site of the only confirmed find of an Asian carp in waters directly connected to Lake Michigan. Last summer a commercial fisherman hired by the State of Illinois to hunt for the fugitive fish pulled out a 19-pound bighead carp.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Forests remove a third of global carbon emissions
Forests play a more significant role in removing carbon from the atmosphere than first reported —  absorbing one-third of global carbon emissions annually, a new U.S. Forest Service study says.
 
“Forests provide us with abundant clean air,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This study shows the important role global forests play in keeping the air clean and it also broadens our understanding of how climate change relates to forest management in today’s world.”

Forests absorb carbon like a giant sponge into what scientists call a carbon sink. Oceans serve as the only other natural source for absorption of significant amounts of carbon. Until these new findings, many experts said forests played a less important role in removing carbon from the air we breathe.

 This report indicates otherwise.

 The study, conducted by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and a team of scientists from around the world, was recently published in the journal Science online, at the Science Express website, an online publication of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science.
–U.S. Forest Service News Release

Ecolab buys water sustainability firm
Ecolab, the St. Paul-based cleaning giant, is deploying its hefty cash for its biggest purchase ever: an Illinois-based company that makes chemicals used in water treatment, pollution reduction and the oil and gas industry, for about $5.4 billion.

 The deal to acquire Nalco Holding Co. of Naperville immediately gives Ecolab a strong position in the increasingly important market of water sustainability, now an insignificant part of Ecolab’s $6.1 billion business.

 Nalco also will expand Ecolab’s presence in emerging markets such as India and China. When the deal closes, the combined company will have more than $10 billion in revenue, making it one of the world’s leading companies in cleaning and water management.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Coalition helps Washington State river adapt
For 10,000 years the Nisqually Indians have relied on chinook salmon for their very existence, but soon those roles are expected to reverse.

 Based on current warming trends, climate scientists anticipate that in the next 100 years the Nisqually River will become shallower and much warmer. Annual snowpack will decline on average by half. The glacier that feeds the river, already shrunken considerably, will continue to recede.

 Play the scene forward and picture a natural system run amok as retreating ice loosens rock that will clog the river, worsening flooding in winter, and a decline in snow and ice drastically diminishes the summer runoff that helps keep the river under a salmon-friendly 60 degrees.

 To prepare for these and other potentially devastating changes, an unusual coalition of tribal government leaders, private partners and federal and local agencies are working to help the watershed and its inhabitants adapt. They are reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; they are promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and they are installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.
–The New York Times

Environment spending mixes cuts, compromises
The environment bill negotiated between Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers includes some budget cuts and some compromise on policy issues.

 The Chamber of Commerce is satisfied with the changes, but environmental groups say the law weakens protections of natural resources and goes against voters’ wishes for Legacy Amendment money.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s general fund is cut by 40 percent over the biennium. That’s a smaller cut than the 66 percent that Republican legislators had initially proposed. Still, it prompts environmental leaders like Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership to charge negotiators with stepping over the constitutional line against substituting Legacy Amendment money for existing expenditures.

 “When overall state funding is going up, the environment is getting cut, and that’s contrary to what voters directed legislators to do just two and a half years ago with the Legacy Amendment,” Morse said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Southeastern U.S. drought worsens
Streamflow and groundwater conditions in southwestern Georgia and adjacent parts of Florida and Alabama continued to worsen during July. Waterways in many of the regions rivers are setting new record lows with gauges on the Flint, Suwannee, Ochlocknee, Alapaha, and Apalachicola rivers recording the lowest water levels in their history due to lower than normal rainfall. Groundwater levels were below normal and set new records in much of the southern Georgia, with some wells going dry.

 To determine the impact of the drought on water resources and ecology of southwestern Georgia and adjacent parts of Florida and Alabama, almost two dozen researchers from three U.S. Geological Survey water science centers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia will conduct field studies in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Aucilla-Suwannee-Ochlockonee river basins.

 “This is the first effort of its kind ever completed during the peak of the summer irrigation season”, said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center. “This effort will help us see hydrologic and ecological conditions at their most stressed condition.”

 USGS field crews will visit more than 200 stream sites and 400 private and public supply wells to assess streamflow decline and drops in groundwater levels. Additionally, field crews will collect water-quality information that will help in the determination of the drought’s impact on ecological conditions in the region. Later in the summer, they will visit the same stream sites to assess populations of fish and mussels affected by drought conditions. The work is being completed as part of the USGS WaterSmart initiative, a program to assess sustainability of water supplies in the ACF basin.
–USGS News Release

 Loss of large animals hurts ecosystems
The loss of large animals is wreaking havoc on Earth’s ecosystems, according to a scientific review published in Science,, causing food chains to fall into disarray, clearing the way for invasive species, and even triggering the transmission of infectious diseases. The decline and disappearance of these large animals, due in large part to human factors such as hunting and habitat loss, has such strong and wide-ranging effects that the review’s authors say it may well be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.”

The researchers reviewed data from recent studies investigating the loss of so called “apex consumers,” large predators and megaherbivores, from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems around the world.

 Whether on land or at sea, the researchers found, the result was the same: Remove the apex consumer and the whole ecosystem suffers, as the initial loss sets off a cascade of changes all the way down the food chain. “Predators have a huge structuring influence,” ecologist Stuart Sandin, one of the researchers, told LiveScience. “When you remove them you change the biology, which is typically profound and complex. And in many cases it’s not necessarily predictable.”
–Discover

Forest Service denies groundwater for Pa. ‘fracking’
Fortune seekers first pulled mineral riches from the floor of the Allegheny National Forest lands more than 100 years ago using the technology of the time — explosives, pipe and towering wooden oil derricks.

 Today’s natural-gas hunters are welcome to drill down and inject millions of gallons of water and sand to fracture, or, “frack,” wells in the deep, natural gas-laden Marcellus Shale on that same public land — but they are going to have to bring their own water with them.

 That is the stance the U.S. Forest Service has struck as the lucrative Marcellus Shale drilling wave spreads across the state and into the historic gas and oil fields of the vast Allegheny National Forest, which sprawls across a large swath of northwestern Pennsylvania.

 The position — announced by Forest Supervisor Leanne Marten to a Shell Oil Co. affiliate amid planning for three new Marcellus wells in the national forest — has reignited the long-running legal dispute over how much control the Forest Service may have over the development of the mineral resources that lie below the 513,325-acre Allegheny National Forest’s surface.
–Erie Times-News

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Watersheds; ag pollution; carp and moose

February 28, 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.

Izaak Walton-Freshwater conference set March 12
Learn about how watershed districts in Minnesota are governed and what they do. And, most important, learn how citizens can work through local watershed organizations to improve water quality in the lakes, rivers and streams around them.

 On Saturday, March 12, the Izaak Walton League and the Freshwater Society will sponsor a workshop titled “Managing Water on the Land from a Watershed Perspective.”

 Tom Davenport, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on nonpoint-source pollution, especially agricultural pollution, will give the keynote luncheon address.

 The workshop – the latest in an annual series of Izaak Walton League summit meetings on important water and conservation issues – will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 4:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture —  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture at the University of Minnesota.

For more information, an agenda and registration details, go to the web site of the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League.

Craig A. Cox

If you had to miss the lecture

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture —  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

If you could not attend the talk, video and audio recordings are posted at www.freshwater.org.

Coon Rapids Dam backed as carp barrier
The Coon Rapids Dam Commission recommended the state spend $17 million to upgrade the 100-year-old dam to keep unwanted fish from migrating up the Mississippi River into popular northern Minnesota lakes.

The recommendation, backed by the state Department of Natural Resources, urges legislators to make improvements as soon as possible using state bonds, money provided by the Legacy Amendment or other funds. 

“This is the best option we have at the moment,” said Luke Skinner, supervisor of the DNR’s invasive species program. “We don’t have the luxury of time.” 

A major concern is a feared influx of high-jumping Asian carp, reducing habitat for game fish and creating a hazard to boaters and water skiers. 

Gov. Mark Dayton has included $16 million for dam repairs in his proposed $1 billion bonding bill.
–The Star Tribune

Moose decline may cut permits
Officials of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say they likely will cut the number of moose hunting permits in half for this fall’s moose season.

That follows the latest moose population survey, which shows moose numbers continuing to decline in northeast Minnesota.

Last year, 212 permits were issued for the bulls-only moose season. Minnesota Public Radio News reports the DNR is expected to reduce that to a little more than 100 permits for the season that starts in October.

DNR area wildlife manager Tom Rusch in Tower says there is no clear answer why the moose population is declining.
–The Associated Press

 Minnesota Senate OKs permitting speed-up
Throwing a nod to business, the Minnesota Senate passed a collection of regulatory streamlining measures aimed at boosting statewide job growth.

 The effort to speed up environmental review and permitting processes cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 49-16 vote two weeks after the House passed a slightly different version.

 The bill would make permanent four initiatives Gov. Mark Dayton required in an executive order last month. But it would add two more controversial ones: allowing permitting appeals to skip lower courts and go straight to the state Court of Appeals and allowing businesses to develop their own draft environmental reviews.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the measure would help new and expanding businesses cut the time it takes to get the state permits they need and, accordingly, add jobs.

It would establish goals for the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency to issue or deny permits and would require agency reports tracking progress. It also would enable electronic submission of environmental review and permit documents. And it would require the state to prove federal standards are inadequate before adopting more stringent ones. 

Over objections from some Democratic-Farmer-Labor colleagues, the Senate exempted the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board from permitting requirements.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin bill would repeal drinking water rule
Republican members of both legislative houses have pushed a bill for discussion that would effectively repeal a rule that requires municipal governments to disinfect drinking water.

The Department of Natural Resources law that went into effect Dec. 1 requires all local governments to go through certain steps to ensure the area’s water is safe for the public. 

State Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, said the rule needed to be repealed because it only aids a small number of Wisconsinites, but all are forced to pay for its costs. 

“I can tell you a couple of villages in my district have been very extensively impacted by a rule that is a one size fits all rule,” Ziegelbauer, one of the bill’s endorsers, said. “Their drinking water is perfectly safe — they monitor it, and this new requirement would require them to put in some very expensive unnecessary equipment.”
–The Badger Herald

Air testing planned in St. Louis Park
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health and the city of St. Louis Park will hold two open houses Thursday, March 3, to answer questions about upcoming vapor intrusion testing near the Reilly Tar & Chemical Superfund site.

The open houses will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the St. Louis Park Public Library, 3240 Library Lane. 

In late March or early April, EPA will offer free air sampling air in about 30 homes and apartment buildings in an area bounded by 32nd Street West to the north, Highway 7 to the south, Louisiana Avenue to the east and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west. 

 The sampling area is part of the 80-acre Reilly Tar & Chemical Corp. site, which was used for coal tar distillation and wood preserving from 1917 to 1972. It was sold to St. Louis Park and converted to residential and recreational uses in 1972.

Air samples will be analyzed for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, better known as PAHs, which have been detected in the ground water and soil under the site. Breathing low levels of PAHs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems.

 The project will involve “sub-slab” sampling under basements and slabs to test for gases that may be collecting beneath building foundations.
–EPA News Release

Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

February 7, 2011
Craig A. Cox from the Environmental Working Group

Craig A. Cox

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 where they originally were published.

‘Taking the pollution out of agriculural production’
Aricultural runoff – fertilizers and pesticides from cultivated fields, manure from pastures and feedlots, sediment washed away by erosion – pollutes many U.S. lakes and rivers. Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group will talk about the agricultural pollution problem and some strategies for reducing it in a free public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 24,  at the University of Minnesota.

Cox’s lecture, titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. It is part of the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.

The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited, and pre-registration is required.

 Cox has worked on land and water conservation for nearly 30 years for agencies that include the National  Academy of Sciences, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, he coordinates the organization’s research and advocacy on agriculture, renewable energy and climate change.

 Calling all phenologists and weather observers
Do you keep track of when the first butterfly arrives, when the oaks lose their leaves? Do you make a record of the weather around you every day? Do you just have fun observing nature?

  If your answer is yes, here is an invitation to join the second annual gathering of Minnesota Phenology and Weather Observers to learn, share your interests and play in the snow in the hills overlooking Lake Superior.

This Phenology and Weather Observers Gathering will take place on the weekend of March 4-6, 2011, at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center; Finland, Minn. 

Space is limited. First come, first serve. The cost of $130includes six meals and occupancy in rooms of up to six. For information and registration, go the Wolf Ridge web site. 

The Gathering is organized, taught and supported by Minnesota Phenology Network, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources, UMD Large Lakes Obeservatory,National Weather Service (Duluth office), Minnesota Climatology Working Group, USA National Phenology Network, Wolf Ridge ELC, Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Assn., John Latimer, Larry Weber, and a variety of dedicated individuals.

Enthusiasts, casual observers, professionals, teachers, researchers all have something to gain. Activities range from exploring nature’s happenings on snowshoes to learning how researchers utilize satellites to monitor changes in nature the size of a leaf. Presenters are very experienced: naturalists, professors, and professional researchers from highly regarded institutions. The new organization’s first meeting in 2010 was profiled in the Freshwater Society newsletter.

 Legislators want quick action on invasives
State lawmakers are urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to move faster in crafting new laws to stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, told DNR officials during a House hearing that the Legislature is ready to hear proposals as soon as possible.

“You can’t sit on your hands and not deal with this,” said McNamara, the chairman of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. “I want legislation here shortly to deal with this in a major way.”

 DNR officials told McNamara’s committee some far-reaching proposals could infringe on boaters’ movement from lake to lake and would be expensive. They also said fighting the pests would require help from local governments.”We get a lot of, ‘The DNR is not doing enough,’ ” Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species program supervisor, told the House committee. “But we turn around and say, ‘Help us.’ ”

McNamara’s challenge was a clear signal to the DNR to formulate the most stringent rules yet to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra mussels.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Bill seeks bar to DNR land buys
Some state representatives want to put the brakes on new land purchases by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has authored a bill that prohibits the state from purchasing land unless it puts up for sale an equal amount of state property. The idea is for the state to have no net gain of state land.

 The bill has 16 co-authors, including Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who has been a vocal opponent of the DNR acquiring additional land.

The bill is the strongest effort yet by House lawmakers to stop state land acquisition that is under way with money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

 Rukavina and others argue the DNR can’t maintain the land it owns, and thus shouldn’t buy any more.

DNR officials say land prices in many areas of the state are bargains and landowners are eager to sell to protect it for state parks, Wildlife Management Areas and lakeshore protection.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

  USGS predicts groundwater declines in Great Lakes basin
Though the Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, the basin has the potential for local shortages, according to a new basin-wide water availability assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For example, though groundwater pumping has had relatively little effect on water in the basin as a whole, pumping in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas has caused local groundwater levels to decline as much as 1,000 feet. Moreover, if pumping were to increase as anticipated in the region, water levels in these areas are estimated to decline an additional 100 feet by 2040.

 While there is an abundance of water in the region, we may see local shortages or conflicts because water is not distributed evenly,” said Howard Reeves, USGS scientist and lead author on this assessment. “In some areas, the physical quantity of water may be limiting, and water availability in most of the Great Lakes Basin will be determined by social decisions about impacts of new uses on existing users and the environment.”
–USGS News Release

Research depicts ground-surface water link
An article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes a new and simple way of measuring groundwater’s contribution to small streams on the surface.

Sinking land levels in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

By taking snapshots of streams with a device designed to capture, through infrared radiation images, the temperatures in various parts of the water, the approach “advances the immediate detection and quantification of localized groundwater inflow for hydrology, geology and ecology,” the article’s authors, Tobias Schuetz and Marcus Weiler of the University of Freiburg’s Institue of Hydrology, wrote. 

Groundwater, they found, tends to be cooler than surface water in summer and warmer in winter; the infrared devices record the difference and produce images that show groundwater as clearly as night goggles show a human figure in the dark.
–The New York Times

 Asian carp czar interviewed on MPR
The man President Barack Obama has charged with managing the Asian carp threat is hearing criticism that the government is not moving fast enough to prevent the invasive fish from infiltrating the Great Lakes.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is in the midst of 12 public meetings scheduled around the Great Lakes region to discuss the federal strategy.

 Asian species known as bighead and silver carp have migrated up the Illinois River. They are being stopped from entering Lake Michigan by an electric barrier 25 miles south of Chicago.

Biologists have warned that if they reach the Great Lakes they could starve out other fish and harm the eco-system.

 Goss was interviewed on MPR’s “All Things Considered.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Flooding predicted throughout Minnesota
The forecast for spring flooding statewide came down to two words:

 Look out. 

Offering their first formal long-range regional outlook of the season, Dan Luna, a National Weather Service meteorologist, and other officials said all the state’s rivers are expected to close roads, including major highways, foul up sewer systems and back up into basements again this spring. That’s almost certain to mean detours for metro-area commuters and hours of sandbagging and sump-pumping for residents from Fargo-Moorhead to Afton.

 “Every river in the state of Minnesota is at risk of flooding this spring,” Luna said, noting how the third straight wet autumn was followed by snowfall that has been twice the norm (or more) over nearly the entire state. He said 3 to 6 inches of frozen water now rests atop frozen ground across Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Ex-MPCA head Brad Moore joins mining firm
A former head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who also held a top position at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, has been hired by PolyMet Mining Co. as the firm’s executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs.

 Duluth native Brad Moore will assume “overall responsibility for the Company’s effort to complete environmental review and obtain permits necessary for construction and operation of the’’ proposed PolyMet copper mining operation between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, the company announced.

 Moore served as PCA commissioner from 2006 to 2008 and as assistant commissioner for operations of the DNR from 1999 to 2006. He also worked in several policy positions at DNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Service (now the Department of Commerce.)

Moore’s “existing knowledge of the project and the process mean that he can step in immediately to effectively help the environmental review and permitting process move forward to completion,’’ said LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet’s vice president of public, governmental and environmental affairs, in a statement on the hiring.

 Moore has most recently worked for Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Dow, Nature Conservancy sign $10 million deal
Dow Chemical Co. pledged to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with a leading conservation group.

 The Michigan-based chemical company said it had entered a five-year, $10 million collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. Executives said they hoped to lead the way to a new era in which corporations and environmental advocates would become less confrontational and work together for sustainable economic growth. 

“Most people believe it’s a choice — it’s either grow the economy or protect the environment . . . the classic zero-sum game in which someone has to lose,” Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Dow intends to “demonstrate that protecting nature can be a profitable global priority and can be a smart business strategy,” Liveris said.
–The Associated Press

 Report: Population growth threatens Colorado ag land
Increasing water demands could dry up more than a half million acres of agricultural land in Colorado over the next several years.

That’s one of the findings of a new state report on the outlook for Colorado’s water supplies to 2050. The report by the Colorado Water Conservation Board updates one released in 2004 that identified water needs to 2030.

The report says if water use follows current trends, large volumes will be shifted away from agricultural uses, drying up as many as 700,000 irrigated acres. The report found that Colorado will have look to conservation, reusing water, local water projects and developing new water supplies to meet the state’s needs.
–The Associated Press

 Jordan gravel pit plan draws concern
A proposed gravel pit near Jordan has created a dust storm over concerns that the city’s water, air and roads could be damaged by the operation.

Officials in Sand Creek Township also oppose it because of possible groundwater contamination they believe could result from the digging. 

The proposed pit would be on about 80 acres in Sand Creek in the 17000 block of Valley View Drive, just north of Jordan near Hwy. 169. After the mining is done, the pit would be turned into a pond. 

“There’s a ton of issues out there,” said Cy Wolf, chairman of the Sand Creek Township board. “But that’s the biggest fear we have out there, Sand Creek flooding over.” If the polluted river were to flood, it could flow into the pond and contaminate it. From there, some fear, it could seep into the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Endangered status proposed for two freshwater mussels
In these parts, freshwater mussels often conjure up images of invasives, infestations and lake devastation. And that’s understandable. In October, zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake, and Brainerd’s best-known lake was designated as infested waters.

It was the second time in less than four months that zebra mussels were discovered in a popular Minnesota lake. In July, the DNR found them in Lake Minnetonka.

But not all mussels are bad. In fact, nearly all freshwater mussels are a positive for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two are in need of protection.

 The USFWS has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the sheepnose and the spectaclecase, two freshwater mussels found in river systems in Minnesota.
-The Brainerd Dispatch

 Anti-zebra mussel bacteria holds promise
A bacteria that can kill zebra and quagga mussels has raised hopes for private and public organizations fighting to control the environmentally hazardous species.

New York State Museum researchers Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer discovered a bacteria strain — Pseudomonas fluorescens — that can kill zebra and quagga mussels without killing other native species in the ecosystem.

“The eureka moment did not come, interestingly enough, when we discovered the bacteria could kill zebra and quagga mussels, but came when we discovered the lack of sensitivity among non-target species,” Mayer said in a phone interview.

Scientists have found plenty of agents capable of killing the mussels, but in most instances they’ve also killed everything else in an ecosystem, Mayer said.
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune 

USDA approves genetically modified alfalfa
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he would authorize the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa, setting aside a controversial compromise that had generated stiff opposition.

In making the decision, Mr. Vilsack pulled back from a novel proposal that would have restricted the growing of genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from so-called biotech contamination. That proposal drew criticism at a recent Congressional hearing and in public forums where Mr. Vilsack outlined the option.

 Mr. Vilsack said that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
–The New York Times

Got milk? Got antibiotics?
Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.
–The New York Times

Climate threatens Kenya, Ethiopia
The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics.

 This poses increased risk to the estimated 17.5 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa who currently face potential food shortages.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Barbara, determined that warming of the Indian Ocean, which causes decreased rainfall in eastern Africa, is linked to global warming. These new projections of continued drought contradict previous scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting increased rainfall in eastern Africa. 

This new research supports efforts by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify areas of potential drought and famine in order to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation, and water resources planning. 

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average,” said USGS scientist Chris Funk.
–USGS News Release 

Oregon rules seek to promote graywater use
Oregon has a new proposal to allow reuse of household and business wastewater for irrigation — and, yes, it excludes wastewater from toilets.

The draft “graywater” regulations require homeowners, schools, businesses, apartment complexes and others to apply for permits costing at least $50 a year before installing irrigation systems using water from showers, baths, sinks or washers.

That’s tougher than California, which decided in 2009 not to require permits for the simplest graywater systems.

But the costs and paperwork in Oregon should be lower than the patchwork of local regulation and permits in place now, regulators say.
–The Oregonian

 Silt building up at mouth of Mississippi
River pilots and exporters are warning that the mouth of the Mississippi River is silting in, threatening a major commercial route, because there is not enough money to pay for dredges that normally keep the channel open.

Seizing on the State of the Union speech, they said the muddy picture on the Mississippi undermines President Barack Obama’s goal of making the United States more competitive. In his speech, Obama told Americans he was focused on “doubling our exports … because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.”

The Mississippi River is a major thoroughfare to the world’s markets for grain, soybeans, pig iron, coal and many other products for 29 states and Canada. About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports cross the mouth of the Mississippi.

But to keep the cargo flowing, the river needs constant tinkering.

The Mississippi carries huge amounts of silt and sediment down river — about 200 million tons a year — and unless it is stirred up by dredges the river clogs up — and that’s what’s happening now.
–The Associated Press

Endocrine disruptors, irrigation and a carp ‘czar’

September 13, 2010

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.

Lecture to explore pollution-birth defect link
It’s not too late to register to attend the Tuesday, Sept. 14, lecture by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist. Guillette, who spent 25 years researching the impact of water pollution on alligators and other wildlife, will present a free, public lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of St. Paul Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. 

Guillette’s research indicates common pollutants, including endocrine-disruptors, are causing birth defects, both in animals and humans. 

Go to www.freshwater.org for details. Dr. Guillette also will be interviewed at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show. 

Debate still rages over bisphenol-A
The research has been going on for more than 10 years. Studies number in the hundreds. Millions of dollars have been spent. But government health officials still cannot decide whether the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, a component of some plastics, is safe. The substance lines most food and drink cans, and is used to make hard, clear plastic bottles, containers and countless other products. Nearly everyone is exposed to it.

Concerns about BPA stem from studies in lab animals and cell cultures showing it can mimic the hormone estrogen. It is considered an “endocrine disruptor,” a term applied to chemicals that can act like hormones. But whether it does any harm in people is unclear.

Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted, with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.
–The New York Times

Study: Irrigation masks some climate warming
Expanded irrigation has made it possible to feed the world’s growing billions — and it may also temporarily be counteracting the effects of climate change in some regions, say scientists in a new study. But some major groundwater aquifers, a source of irrigation water, are projected to dry up in coming decades from continuing overuse, and when they do, people may face the double whammy of food shortages and higher temperatures.

 A new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research pinpoints where the trouble spots may be.

“Irrigation can have a significant cooling effect on regional temperatures, where people live,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Puma, a hydrologist who works jointly with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and its affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “An important question for the future is what happens to the climate if the water goes dry and the cooling disappears? How much warming is being hidden by irrigation?”
–Science Daily

 Asian carp ‘czar’ named
The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response for keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

 On a conference call, President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the nearly $80 million federal attack against Asian carp.

The carp, which have steadily moved toward Chicago since the 1990s, are aggressive eaters and frequently beat out native fish for food, threatening those populations.

 Goss was director of the Indiana department under two governors and served for four years as executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. His challenge will be to oversee several studies — including one looking into shutting down the Chicago waterway system linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River — and to bring together Great Lakes states locked in a court battle over the response to the Asian carp threat.
–The Chicago Tribune

DNR: White Bear Lake needs more rain
For Bill and Kitty Anderson, White Bear Lake residents who fish on their hometown lake every week, waiting for rain to refill their fishing hole was no longer good enough.

 At a public meeting at White Bear Lake City Hall, the couple and at least 100 other residents listened to hydrologists and climatologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain why the lake level has fallen five feet over the past three summers. The DNR blames persistent dry and drought conditions.

 In terms of solutions, Bill Anderson asked, why not run water from somewhere else, like the Mississippi River, into White Bear Lake?

 The water quality of the river doesn’t match the lake’s, the DNR specialists said.

 The city organized the meeting after several summers of dry weather have contributed to the lake dropping and receding from its shoreline — by more than 100 feet in some areas.

The meeting was timely — the lake reached a new all-time low days before, hitting 919.65 feet above sea level, down from the normal watermark of 924.89 feet above sea level, according to DNR data.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Colorado wastewater affecting fish
Wastewater pouring from sewage-treatment plants in Boulder and Denver is bending the gender of fish living downstream, a new study has found. 

Some of these strangely sexed sucker fish have male and female organs, and others have sexual deformities, according to a study by University of Colorado researchers. 

“It’s sort of a sentinel for us,” said David Norris, a CU biologist and an author of the report. “Every major city in the Western U.S. is looking at it.”

The paper, published this month in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, is the first peer-reviewed study documenting the reproductive problems of fish downstream from Colorado wastewater-treatment plants. 

Similarly odd fish have been found in England and in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
–The Denver Post

 Hydro-power making comeback
The giant pipes wheeze and rumble, the whoosh of water coursing through them as noisy as a freeway. The Mount Elbert hydropower plant high in the Rocky Mountains isn’t much to look at—or listen to. But to true believers, it’s a road map to a greener future.

 Hydropower, shunned just a few years ago as an environmental scourge, is experiencing a remarkable resurgence in the U.S. Dams are still viewed warily; in fact, Congress is considering dismantling four hydroelectric dams blamed for depleting salmon in the Klamath River basin in southern Oregon and northern California.

But engineers and entrepreneurs are pressing an alternative view of hydropower that doesn’t involve new dams. They argue that plenty of efficient, economical energy can be wrung from other water resources, including ocean waves, free-flowing rivers, irrigation ditches—even the effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities.
–The Wall Street Journal

If water smells bad, it probably is 
Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published USGS study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.

 “It is commonly believed that there are no health risks associated with taste-and-odor compounds,” said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study. “While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled. This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated.”

Cyanotoxins are produced by some cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria commonly form a blue-green, red or brown film-like layer on the surface of lakes and reservoirs. This phenomenon is frequently noticed in the United States during the summer, but also occurs during other seasons.

 Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock. Removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive. Cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water contaminant candidate list, and many states include cyanotoxins in their freshwater beach-monitoring programs.
–USGS News Release

California now lags in waste-to-energy race
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Government officials from around the world used to come to this port city to catch a glimpse of the future: Two-story piles of trash would disappear into a furnace and eventually be transformed into electricity to power thousands of homes. 

Nowadays, it’s U.S. officials going to Canada, Japan and parts of Western Europe to see the latest advances.

 The Long Beach plant, for all its promise when it began operations roughly 20 years ago, still churns out megawatts. But it is a relic, a symbol of how California, one of America’s greenest states, fell behind other countries in the development of trash-to-energy technology.
–The Associated Press 

DNR warns boaters on invasive species
With the growing popularity of autumn fishing and the Minnesota waterfowl season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, there could be considerable boat traffic on state waters once again this fall.

“That means the potential for spreading invasive species will continue until freeze-up so it’s important that boaters keep in mind the law concerning transporting aquatic vegetation on boats and trailers.” said Lt. Cory Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area conservation officer supervisor at Litchfield.

 Because human activity is a frequent cause for spreading invasive species to new lakes, a state law was passed making it illegal to transport any type of aquatic vegetation on a boat or trailer, even if the vegetation is not invasive, Palmer said.
–DNR News Release

Montreal tap water fills Aqufina bottles
Water conservation groups say the City of Montreal should increase how much it charges companies to turn its cheap tap water into bottled water for a profit.  

Last year, the beverage giant PepsiCo began pumping municipal water into its Pepsi-QTG plant in Ville St. Laurent. The company filters the water and then bottles it under the brand name Aquafina. 

The Polaris Institute and Quebec’s Coalition Eau Secours said the City of Montreal isn’t charging companies like PepsiCo enough money to use municipal water as the basis for its bottled water product.
–CBC News 

FDA considers genetically modified salmon
Will the Food and Drug Administration approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption? The animal is a genetically engineered salmon that grows to market size twice as fast as conventional salmon. And the FDA will be holding public meetings about that fish starting on September 19th. 

The company behind the salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, got a thumbs-up last week from a panel of FDA scientists. They concluded there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal.
–National Public Radio 

Invasive quagga mussels threaten L. Michigan
An invasive species of mussel called quagga has recently begun eating its way through the phytoplankton population of Lake Michigan, which could have dire effects on the lake’s ecosystem, scientists now warn.

 A giant ring of phytoplankton (microscopic plants such as algae) was discovered in Lake Michigan in 1998 by Michigan Technological University biologist W. Charles Kerfoot and his research team. The “phytoplankton doughnut” is formed when winter storms kick up nutrient-rich sediment along the southeastern shore of the lake. The disturbed sediments begin circulating in a slow-moving circle with the lake’s currents, which provides a massive supply of food for phytoplankton.
–Our Amazing Planet

Holes found in bed of White Bear Lake 
A series of holes discovered in the sandy lake bed off  Manitou Island had state natural resources officials investigating the site and speculating about the sudden appearance.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Supervisor of Groundwater and Hydrology Jennie Leete and Hydrologist Craig Wills inspected a 6-inch deep, 4-foot by 4-foot hole about 25 feet off shore on the south side of the island Sept. 3. The hole was discovered Aug. 25.

Leete and Willis said it appears the hole may be part of a spring that has been revealed by historically low lake water levels. The pair said they did not believe water was leaking down into the hole.

“I’d be shocked if the water was going (down),” said Willis. “We think the water is (going up) into the lake.”
–The White Bear Press 

Don’t miss lecture on pollution-birth defects

September 7, 2010

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.

Register now for lecture on pollution and birth defects
Less than two weeks remain to register to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist.

Guillette’s lecture – at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota – is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

Guillette, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, spent 25 years studying sexually stunted alligators living in polluted lakes in Florida.

His lecture, titled “Contaminants, Water and Our Health: New Lessons from Wildlife,” will deal with links between water pollution and birth defects – in animals and in humans. For information, and to register,  go to www.freshwater.org. To read an interview with Guillette, published in the Freshwater Society’s September newsletter, click here.

Asian carp case back in court
The 30-pound silver carp that leapt from the water and knocked a kayaker out of a 340-mile race down the Missouri River is a reminder of what’s at stake when the Asian carp debate returns to court in Chicago.

 Five Great Lakes states are suing the federal government to force closing of Chicago-area shipping locks as a last-ditch effort to keep the invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. But closing locks in the waterway system, even for a short time, could deal a crippling blow to the shipping and boating industries that help drive Illinois’ economy, business leaders say.

 This case “is a tremendous risk for the city of Chicago and the region’s economy, traffic congestion and flood control,” said Jim Farrell, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to keep the locks open. “This irresponsible filing has very serious consequences.” 

The anticipated three-day legal showdown was to begin Sept. 7  in federal court as attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota try to persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Dow that Asian carp pose such a grave threat to the Great Lakes that nothing short of an emergency shutdown of the system will stop them.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Coon Rapids dam eyed as carp barrier
Can the 97-year-old Coon Rapids dam over the Mississippi River serve as Minnesota’s barrier to the northward migration of unwanted fish, including the notorious Asian carp?

Stanley Consultants, an international firm with an office in Wayzata, has a $164,087 contract with Three Rivers Park District to answer that question by the first of next year.

The west-suburban park district, which owns and operates the dam, will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from a $500,000 fund set up by the Legislature to create a fish barrier on the Mississippi.

 Although the dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the Ford Dam in St. Paul and the Hastings Dam are taller and therefore better blocks to the invasive fish, they all have locks that allow fish to move upstream with boats, said Luke Skinner, DNR supervisor of the state’s invasive species program. “Coon Rapids dam is the first dam on the river that does not have a lock.”
–The Star Tribune

GE exec calls low prices for water ‘wacky’
Why doesn’t water get more attention? 

According to Jeff Fulgham, it’s because it’s available on demand virtually everywhere — from taps to toilets to showers and sinks.

 But as the newly-appointed chief sustainability officer of GE Power and Water — as well as the division’s Ecomagination leader — Fulgham knows better. The reality is that the world is quickly running out of water — and if we don’t do anything about it, what was once ubiquitous will become scarce in some of the world’s most populous areas.
–Smart Planet

 U.S. energy use dipped in 2009
A bright spot in the nation’s flickering economy is that Americans used less energy last year than in 2008, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently published its findings online.

 “Part of the reason is [that] the whole economy shrank,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at Livermore who calculated that overall energy use in the country dropped from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008 to 94.6 quadrillion in 2009. “People are doing less stuff overall, using less oil, saving money.”

 Another reason, Simon added, is that the residential, industrial, commercial and transportation sectors of the economy are using more products that are energy-efficient. 

“People put in [compact fluorescent light bulbs],” Simon said, “and they actually use less electricity, and that change percolates all the way through the energy system.” 

The data also revealed that people are increasingly relying on hydropower, geothermal and wind energy, thereby cutting their use of coal, natural gas and petroleum.
–The Washington Post 

Spotted owls continue to decline
Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren’t certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them. 

The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps. 

Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington State, they’re declining at 6 percent to 7 percent a year. 

While that may seem like a small number, it adds up, said Eric Forsman, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., who’s studied the owl since 1968. 

The fight over the owl, however, perhaps the fiercest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, was always about more than just protecting a surprisingly friendly, football-sized bird with dark feathers, dark eyes and white spots.
–McLatchy News Service

USGS research focuses on road salt toxicity
The use of salt to deice pavement can leave urban streams toxic to aquatic life, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study on the influence of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities, with a special focus on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

More than half of the Milwaukee streams included in this study had samples that were toxic during winter deicing. In eastern and southern Wisconsin, all streams studied had potentially toxic chloride concentrations during winter, with lingering effects into the summer at some streams. Nationally, samples from fifty-five percent of streams studied in 13 northern cities were potentially toxic; twenty-five percent of the streams had samples that exceeded acute water quality criteria. 

Toxicity was measured by direct testing of organisms in samples during the local study component; in the regional and the national study components, observed chloride levels were used to assess potential toxicity.

“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” said Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. “The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” said Corsi, who led the study.
–US Geological Survey News Release

First, the good news: Potomac shows improvement
The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests. Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study. 

Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK. 

“Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area,” said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Now, the bad news: Coastal ‘dead zones’ increase
A report issued by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend. The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed—have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960, when data started to be collected.

 The report was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had significant inputs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It provides a comprehensive list of the more than 300 U.S. coastal water bodies affected by hypoxia and, in eight case studies, highlights a range of representative ecosystems affected by hypoxia.

 The full release and report can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/oceans.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Big banks grow leery of environmental risks
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.

 For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

 In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
–The New York Times

 EPA declines to ban lead bullets
The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a request that it ban lead bullets, saying it does not have the legal authority to do so. The American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for the ban. The Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the petition was made, exempts ammunition from its controls. The agency will, however, seek comment on the merit of a ban on lead fishing sinkers. Adam Keats, a senior counsel for the center, said in a news release that “the E.P.A. has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition.”
–The New York Times

 San Francisco proposes effluent re-use
It doesn’t sound like a radical idea: Watering Golden Gate Park’s meadows and bowers with treated wastewater.

But for a city that for 75 years has relied on a pristine water supply from the Sierra Nevada, it is. 

San Francisco’s water utility will unveil a proposal for the city’s first large-scale water recycling project, an arc-shaped facility near Ocean Beach that would filter and disinfect 2 million gallons of sewer and storm water each day for use on 1,000 acres of San Francisco land. 

The $152 million Westside Recycled Water Project would be used to water Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

MPCA seeks comment on Como Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Como Lake in St. Paul. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, focuses on pollution caused by excess nutrients. A public comment period began Aug. 30 and continues through Sept. 29. 

The Como Lake watershed is located in the north-central portion of the Capitol Region Watershed District and is within the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The 69-acre lake is a popular recreational water body used for fishing, boating and aesthetic viewing. 

The lake was placed on the state’s impaired waters list because of excess nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and plants, it is considered a pollutant when it stimulates excessive growth of algae or aquatic plants. 

The TMDL study indicated that the overall phosphorus load to Como Lake will need to be reduced by 60 percent in order to meet water quality standards. 

After receiving public comments, the MPCA will revise the draft Como Lake TMDL report and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Following approval, a plan will be developed to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake. 

The Como Lake TMDL draft report is available on the Web at, or at the MPCA St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments may be submitted to Brooke Asleson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Asleson at 651-757-2205.
–MPCA News Release

Abandoned turtles threaten LA waters
When a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department task force followed a tip about illegal fireworks in San Pedro on the fourth of July, a stash of 10,000 live baby turtles was the last thing they expected to find.

 “There were about 500 turtles in each box – and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford, the adoption chairwoman of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s Foothill chapter.

 Along with other members, Crawford took in thousands of the “filthy” and sick animals – red-eared slider turtles reportedly smuggled cross-country from their native Louisiana. Despite antibiotics, more than half died. The rest were adopted out, Crawford said.

In an effort to quell the spread of salmonella to children, federal law has prohibited the sale of any turtle under four inches since 1975. But authorities say that hasn’t slowed black-market sales of the ever-popular red-eared sliders.
–The Pasadena Star-News

EPA floats new water-quality strategy

August 30, 2010

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.

EPA  floats new water-quality strategy
The Environmental Protection Agency floated a draft strategy to improve water quality nationwide, one that bluntly recognizes that today’s pollution sources are often difficult to target with traditional Clean Water Act controls.

“Despite our best efforts and many local successes, our aquatic ecosystems are declining nationwide. The rate at which new waters are being listed for water quality impairments exceeds the pace at which restored waters are removed from the list,” EPA acknowledged. 

When the landmark water law was enacted in 1972, traditional “point sources” of pollution —think industrial discharge pipes fouling waters — were the big problem. 

But times have changed — the strategy notes that “Over the last 30 years, stressors have shifted” and that “recent surveys found that nutrient pollution, excess sedimentation, and degradation of shoreline vegetation affect upwards of 50 percent of our lakes and streams.” 

“In addition, recent National Water Quality Inventories have documented pathogens as a leading cause of river and stream impairments. Sources of these stressors vary regionally, but the main national sources of water degradation are: agriculture, stormwater runoff, habitat, hydrology and landscape modifications, municipal wastewater, and air deposition. EPA’s strategy must now meet these shifting needs and priorities,” EPA noted. 

The EPA is taking comments on the draft plan until Sept. 17.
–The Hill

CNN profiles Windom farmer Tony Thompson
CNN this week broadcast a long profile of Tony Thompson, a Windom corn and soybean farmer who is an avid environmentalist. The profile focused on Thompson’s efforts to reduce his farm’s contributions to the pollution that each year causes an oxygen-deprived “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last March, Thompson was one of the panelists in a daylong workshop on agriculture and water quality sponsored by the Izaak Walton League and the Freshwater Society.  

Invasive cattails out-compete natives
Walk along most any lake or wetland in southern Minnesota and chances are you’ll see lots of cattails.

But look closer, and you may not like what’s happening.

Where native cattails once stood, sprinkled among bullrush, smartweed and other plants, now there’s almost certainly a vast lawn of narrow-leaved cattails or their hybrid offspring. These relative newcomers are taller, with narrower, darker-green leaves and slimmer “corn-dog” spikes at the tops.

 They outcompete the natives, upsetting the ecological balance by creating a monoculture that’s inhospitable to other plants, animals and birds.

 “It’s just a matter of them finding every last little wetland spread over the landscape,” said Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Hardwood Ecology. “Especially over the last decade, you can’t find any native cattails without driving hours from the Twin Cities.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Muskie stocking plan is controversial
The idea seems simple: Stock muskies in five new Minnesota waters to boost muskie fishing opportunities in the state.

 “Muskie anglers are the fastest-growing segment of our angling public,” said Tim Goeman, Department of Natural Resources regional fisheries manager in Grand Rapids. A long-range DNR plan calls to add eight new muskie waters by 2020.

 But the proposal is steeped in controversy, pitting anglers against fellow anglers.
–The Star Tribune 

Opinion: Swackhamer lauds sustainability planning
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature wisely decided it needed a long-term roadmap for the sustainable management of our state’s water supply. Legislators wanted a big, bold plan that would go beyond simply meeting regulatory obligations and improving waters one lake at a time — they wanted a plan to ensure that the state’s waters would be preserved and protected for generations to come. Before committing the billions of dollars of taxpayer money expected from the 25-year 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, legislators wanted a way to make sure Minnesotans would get their money’s worth. 

In July 2009, I was charged with overseeing the creation of this roadmap, a project known as the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. Due to the Legislature in January, the framework will offer a comprehensive suite of policy recommendations and targeted investments designed to protect our health, our quality of life and Minnesota’s habitats and ecosystems for generations to come. 

The framework is not a line-by-line spending plan to restore and protect Minnesota’s water supply. Nor is it a plan to approach the issue pond-by-pond through grants to community groups and agencies or by funding new projects. Instead, it will be the country’s first long-term approach to the sustainable management of a state’s water supply, an approach that, all told, will have taken more than 18 months and the expertise of hundreds of Minnesotans from around the state to develop.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Open houses on L. Minnetonka zebra mussels
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will host open houses – Tuesday, Aug. 31, and Wednesday, Sept. 1 – to keep the public informed about the zebra mussel infestation on Lake Minnetonka. The meetings will allow residents and lake users to ask questions regarding potential impacts, regulations and actions that can be taken to protect boats and equipment, and to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. 

A short overview presentation will be given at the beginning of the open houses. The meetings will be:

  •  Tuesday, August 31,  from 7 to 9 p.m., Southshore Community Center, 5735 Country Club Road, Shorewood.
  • Wednesday, September 1, from7:00 to 9:00 p.m., Gillespie Center, 2590 Commerce Boulevard, Mound.

–Minnesota DNR

 Oily waste from BP spill headed to landfills
The cleanup of history’s worst peacetime oil spill is generating thousands of tons of oil-soaked debris that is ending up in local landfills, some of which were already dealing with environmental concerns.

The soft, absorbent boom that has played the biggest role in containing the spill alone would measure more than twice the length of California’s coastline, or about 2,000 miles. More than 50,000 tons of boom and oily debris have made their way to landfills or incinerators, federal officials told The Associated Press, representing about 7 percent of the daily volume going to nine area landfills.

 A month after the oil stopped flowing into the Gulf, the emphasis has shifted toward cleanup and disposal of oily trash at government-approved landfills in coastal states.

 Environmental Protection Agency officials say the sites meet federal regulations, are equipped to handle the influx of waste and are being monitored closely, although three sites have state environmental issues. State records show two are under investigation and one was cited in May for polluting nearby waters.
–The Associated Press

 States take Asian carp case to court
After months of lawsuits and political wrangling, the Asian carp issue moved to the courtroom, setting up a much anticipated legal showdown for control of Chicago’s waterway system.

In a three-hour hearing in federal court in Chicago, attorneys from five Great Lakes states laid out the broad strokes of a complex legal argument to close Chicago-area shipping locks to stop Asian carp before they reach Lake Michigan.

Calling the fish’s threat a “biological tipping point” for invasive species entering the Great Lakes, Michigan’s assistant attorney general, Robert Reichel, said the Army Corps of Engineers needs to act immediately to keep Asian carp from irreparably harming the lakes’ estimated $7 billion annual commercial and recreational fishing industry.

“What the corps is doing today, maintaining routine operations of the locks … is creating a risk where harm will follow,” Reichel told U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow.

Attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota are asking Dow to grant an emergency injunction to close the shipping locks, a vital and lucrative shipping corridor linking the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds.
–The Chicago Tribune

Pollution threatens Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon faces grand challenges from water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution and insufficient funding, warned a report from an independent organization dedicated to preserving the nation’s parks.

The National Parks Conservation Association pointed to power generation, mining and aircraft as potential culprits threatening one of the world’s natural wonders — one that draws 4.5 million visitors a year and pumps upward of $1 billion into economies of the Southwest.

“This park has severe threats to its most important and basic resources,” said Ron Tipton, NPCA’s senior vice president for policy. “And they are not being adequately addressed” by federal officials.
–The Salt Lake Tribune

Climate change melts Asian glaciers
Many of Asia’s glaciers are retreating as a result of climate change.

This retreat impacts water supplies to millions of people, increases the likelihood of outburst floods that threaten life and property in nearby areas, and contributes to sea-level rise.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with 39 international scientists, published a report on the status of glaciers throughout all of Asia, including Russia, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

This report is the 9th in the series of 11 volumes to be published as the USGS Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World.
–USGS News Release

 

Ground disposal of effluent proposed

August 16, 2010

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.

Comment sought on ground disposal of sewage effluent
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on the proposed construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Bethel that would put treated effluent into the ground.

 The proposal is part of a plan to install sewers in the fast-growing community that now is mostly served by private septic systems.

 Under the plan from Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, about 420,000 gallons per day of effluent would flow  into two shallow earthen basins, where the effluent then would drain into the ground. Sewage entering the plant would be treated and filtered to produce effluent that would be higher quality than  the water discharged from other Metropolitan Council treatment plants.

 Jim Roth, the Metropolitan Council engineer overseeing the project, said the effluent would go into a shallow aquifer that is separated by a layer of silty till material from a deeper sand aquifer that supplies water to private wells in the area. 

Details of the project are spelled out in an environmental assessment worksheet prepared by the Pollution Control Agency. The agency is seeking public comment on that document before determining if a more comprehensive environmental review will be conducted. Comments are due by Sept. 8.

 Questions about the project can be directed to Nancy Drach at 651-757-2317 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.  

Pawlenty rejects DNR shoreline rules
Minnesota regulators spent years devising more protective shore land and dock rules to guide new development along state lakes.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent them back to the drawing board, rejecting their revisions as “overreaching” and as undermining local control and property rights. He suggested the Legislature take up the matter next winter. 

“The rules you forwarded to me regarding these issues do not strike a proper balance between protection of our lakes and waterways and the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property,” Pawlenty wrote in a letter to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten. 

Pawlenty’s decision means decades-old standards for lakeshore construction and docks that are commonly considered out of date will be around a good while longer. If the governor had accepted the draft changes, a public hearing process would have begun soon, and new standards could have been in place next year.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Study seeks pollution hot spots for Woodbury lakes
Two Woodbury lakes are being targeted for an experimental cleanup approach this summer.

Officials are using what’s called “subwatershed assessment” on Powers and Carver lakes and other lakes across the metro area, according to Jay Riggs, manager of the Washington Conservation District.

 “This is really cutting-edge,” Riggs said. “We are trying to identify which practices to put into place.”

The technique combines old and new technologies to find the sources of runoff pollution around a lake and the cheapest way to stop them.

 Aerial photos and specialized computer software are used to identify problem areas. Then one- to three-block areas are mapped out, and homeowners are given suggestions for cutting runoff pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Wind turbines planned near Manhattan
For years, New York officials have envisioned powering the region from a set of huge wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. But well before an offshore wind farm would be up and running, giant turbines may soon be spinning much closer to the city.

Within three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hopes to have five wind towers, each more than 280 feet tall, operating on the west side of New York Harbor. Nearby, the City of Bayonne, N.J., plans to install an equally large turbine to power a sewage-pumping station. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering placing wind turbines on or near its hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
–The New York Times

Anglers’ felt soles spread invasives
For fly fishers who pride themselves on a conservationist ethic, it hurts to discover that they may be trampling on that ethic every time they wade into a trout stream. 

Blame their boots — or, more precisely, their felt soles. Growing scientific evidence suggests that felt, which helps anglers stay upright on slick rocks, is also a vehicle for noxious microorganisms that hitchhike to new places and disrupt freshwater ecosystems. 

That is why Alaska and Vermont recently approved bans on felt-soled boots and Maryland plans to do so soon.
–The New York Times 

Satellites to track migrating loons
Ten common loons are now sporting satellite transmitters so researchers can study the migratory movements and feeding patterns of these remarkable fish-eating waterbirds as they migrate through the Great Lakes toward their winter homes farther south. 

By using satellite tracking devices implanted in the loons from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Geological Survey scientists expect to learn essential information about avian botulism needed by managers to develop important conservation strategies for the loon species.  

“This study will also help managers better understand how loons fare as they head to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts,” said USGS scientist Kevin Kenow, of the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Cross, WI. “Right now, little is known about habitat use along their entire migratory routes.” 

In addition to the loons with satellite transmitters, about 70 other loons will have geolocator tags, which will record daily location, temperature, light levels and water-pressure data that will log the foraging depths of these diving birds. 

Movement of loons from previous studies using satellite transmitters can be followed online.  Loon movements from the current study will be available later this summer. To see a video on the project, click here.
–USGS News Release 

Origin of Chicago’s Asian carp murky
In the wake of a government news release that pointed a finger at humans for planting an Asian carp near Lake Michigan, facts are coming to light that indicate Illinois officials may have stretched their own science to sell a whopper of a fish tale. 

When netting crews hunting for Asian carp above an electric barrier on the Chicago canal system in June pulled a three-foot long, 20-pound mature bighead carp from Lake Calumet – just six miles south of Lake Michigan – the question was: How did it get there? 

If it swam on its own, that would spell trouble for Lake Michigan because it could indicate that the electric fish barrier about 35 miles downstream from the lake was not doing its job, and more fish had perhaps breached this last line of defense.

If it were determined that the fish got there with human help, then it could more easily be explained as an isolated find, and not evidence that additional steps should be taken on the canal system to protect the Great Lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Michigan spill feeds pipeline opposition
Environmental groups and landowners, upset by last month’s oil spill in Michigan, are urging the Obama administration to deny a proposal for an oil pipeline that would go from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Alberta-based TransCanada’s proposed 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline would link up with its existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline, which began operations in June, and go through Montana, South Dakota,  Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

 Opponents say last month’s spill underscored the dangers of the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline ruptured on July 25 and spilled nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. 

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the Keystone XL project even before the Michigan spill, but the incident has increased scrutiny and elevated concerns.
–USA Today

UN chief urges multiple, small steps on climate
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said that he doubted that member states would reach a new global climate change agreement in December at a conference in Mexico. 

Mr. Ban, who was the head cheerleader for reaching a deal during the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, suggested that a better approach might consist of small steps in separate fields that built toward wider consensus rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.

 “Climate change, I think, has been making progress, even though we have not reached such a point where we will have a globally agreed, comprehensive deal,” Mr. Ban said at a news conference.
–The New York Times 

 Mercury limits set for cement industry
The Environmental Protection Agency set the first limits for mercury emissions from cement factories. The rules will cut mercury emissions and particulate matter 92 percent a year starting in 2013, the agency said. Manufacture of Portland cement, the type most widely used, is the third-biggest source of mercury air pollution in the country, the agency said. Mercury, which can harm childhood development of the brain and is linked to asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, is released when cement components are heated in a kiln, according to agency documents. The EPA estimated that the rules would yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in environmental and health benefits and cost companies as much as $950 million a year.
–Bloomberg News Service

Save a reef, saute a lionfish
If you can’t beat it, eat it. That’s the edict coming from scientists who are trying to combat the spread of invasive lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 

A native of South Pacific and Indian Oceans and popular aquarium specimen, lionfish were likely released off Florida back in the 1980s and have since spread as far as North Carolina and South America.

Brilliant maroon with a “mane” of long, venomous spines, the lionfish is a voracious eater, with no match to its predatory prowess in foreign territory. Scientists fear its rapid reproduction and aggressive appetite will pummel already overfished native stocks of snapper and grouper because they compete for the same food. The spiny swimmers might also dine on algae-eating parrot fish, causing algae to grow out of control and cover reefs.

  The American appetite for seafood may be the best hope against the interloper. Thus the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) has partnered with chefs and spear fishermen to launch an Eat Lionfish Campaign. Fortunately, the lionfish is said to be scrumptious: a delicate white fish rivaling the taste of grouper and snapper.
— Audubon Magazine

White Bear Lake hits record low
The parched state of the lake is an everyday topic in the city of White Bear Lake. 

The lake recently hit a record low — more than 5 feet below its normal level — and residents are trying to figure out how to refill the 2,200-acre body of water. 

“It’s the talk of the town,” said Mike Parenteau, a board member for the lake’s conservation district.

His group recently accepted a $5,000 grant from the White Bear Lake Homeowners Association to study recharge possibilities. 

And while White Bear Lake residents fret, folks a few miles west in Shoreview are marveling at Snail Lake’s rebound. Last summer, the 150-acre lake was 5 feet below its normal level, too, but in the past four months, it has risen almost 4 feet.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 California delays vote on $11.1 billion water bond
California lawmakers have voted to delay putting an $11.1 billion water bond to voters, extending a battle to rework the biggest effort in decades to upgrade the state’s water system.

The legislators also agreed to lengthen the terms of California’s nine water commissioners appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a change that some critics of the governor say could give him influence over the direction of the state’s water projects after leaving office in January. The commissioners’ terms would have ended at a various times over the next few years; they will now all hold their positions until May 2014.

 The postponement — approved by narrow majorities in both statehouse chambers — is part of a broader struggle to improve California’s ailing water system. The Golden State’s frequent droughts and growing population place special demands on an aging water system, which itself causes major environmental damage.

 The bond, part of a set of water-related bills approved by the legislature last year, is a test case for how well California can balance environmental concerns with water demand from farmers, consumers and businesses. The bills called for projects including ecosystem restoration, water conservation, groundwater monitoring and construction of water storage, such as dams and reservoirs.

Some of those projects are moving forward, but the bond requires the approval of California’s voters. Lawmakers agreed to move that vote from Election Day in November to 2012, due to fears that voters would reject the measure.
–The Wall Street Journal

Mexico, U.S. in talks on water storage
The powerful earthquake that rattled Mexicali, Mexico, on Easter Sunday also has stirred serious international talks over the future of the Colorado River, the Las Vegas Valley’s primary water source.

Federal officials from the United States and Mexico met at the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s office in downtown Las Vegas to discuss a shortage and water-sharing agreement between the two nations.

The talks have been ongoing since early 2008, but the 7.2 magnitude quake on April 4 seemed to create more urgency on the Mexican side because widespread infrastructure damage might prevent that nation from using its full Colorado River allocation.

 Lorri Gray-Lee has been taking part in the discussions as director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region.

 She said Mexico wants to be able to store a part of its annual river allocation in Lake Mead for future use once the earthquake damage has been repaired.
–Las Vegas Review-Journal

Huge California solar complex proposed
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.

But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity. 

Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. 

At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
–The New York Times

China struggles with environmental challenges
This year, China will leapfrog Japan to become the second-biggest economy on Earth, behind only the USA, predicts Ting Lu, a China economist with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Next month, China starts broadcasts on CNN and other networks of an image-boosting commercial featuring stars such as basketballer Yao Ming and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. 

Back at ground level, though, in what remains a developing country, China’s people and government are struggling to deal with a series of natural disasters that some environmentalists believe are the deadly, man-made consequences of favoring economic growth over environmental protection. 

The latest tragedy occurred when heavy rain triggered landslides that blocked a river in Zhouqu County, an ethnically Tibetan area in northwestern Gansu province, forcing floodwater to sweep through the county seat.
–USA Today

 MPCA levies $45,000 pollution penalty
Universal Circuits, which operates a Maple Grove circuit-board-manufacturing plant, has agreed to pay a $45,000 penalty for alleged environmental violations.

 The alleged violations were discovered in 2007 and 2008, during inspections by Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services staff.  Hennepin County referred the violations to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for enforcement. 

The manufacturing process at Universal Circuits’ Maple Grove facility uses hazardous materials and generates hazardous wastes containing or including sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid and several other corrosive etching and cleaning chemicals; solvent waste containing xylene; and copper, lead, cyanide-containing and other wastes. 

 During their inspections of the facility, Hennepin County staff documented conditions indicating that Universal Circuits had failed to recover spilled hazardous wastes as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. Hennepin County staff also documented that industrial waste or other pollutants had breached a trench inside the building, resulting in a discharge from the facility to the soil.

 The company has since corrected all alleged violations.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA takes on eight Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against eight beef feedlot operations in northwest Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations into the region’s rivers and streams.

All eight of the most recent enforcement actions involve administrative compliance orders issued to medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which are feedlots that confine between 300 and 999 cattle and whose discharge is facilitated by a man-made conveyance.
–EPA Region 7 News Release

Symposium set on biocontrol of invasives

May 6, 2010

Since the beginning of the year, Asian carp have been making headlines across the country, as efforts to halt their invasion of the Great Lakes watersheds have spurred a Supreme Court case and the involvement of the Obama Administration. 

The four species of carp collectively known as Asian carp threaten huge dangers to the health of the Great Lakes. They are a major factor in the deterioration of aquatic environments, devastating food sources and habitats for native fish and waterfowl species.  At present, states are employing multiple strategies to control the spread of these invasive species.  Mechanical obstructions such as physical barriers, electric barriers, and acoustic deterrents are often used alone or in conjunction with poison.

 But, as Asian carp continue to knock at the door of the Great Lakes, it has become clear that these measures are not enough to provide a viable, long-term solution to the problem.

 Enter genetic biological control.  Armed with the tools of recombinant DNA technology, many scientists have begun to evaluate the potential for using genetically manipulated organisms to disrupt the survival or reproduction of a targeted invasive species.  This strategy of biocontrol entails the intentional release of transgenic or sterile individuals into populations of invasive species. 

 Biocontrol has the capability to be more effective than present methods because of its ability to target only invasive species with little to no effect on native fish populations, unlike mechanical or chemical approaches.  However, this potentially powerful new tool would likely be integrated into existing control measures as part of a multi-faceted management strategy for minimizing the harmful effects of non-native species invasion.

 Next month, Minneapolis will play host to a gathering of the world’s leading experts on biocontrol.  The International Syposium on Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Fish will take place June 21-24 and will address current developments in genetic biocontrol technologies, environmental risk assessments, regulatory issues, and possible economic impacts of future biocontrol implementation.

 It will bring together fisheries managers, industry representatives, and government regulators with experts in all facets of genetic biocontrol.  The keynote speaker will be Dan Simberloff, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he studies the theoretical susceptibility of ecosystems to invasion from exotic species.  

 Simberloff, who earned an Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America in 2006, has been critical of the U.S. government’s inaction in combating invasive species.  One of the major sponsors of the symposium is the Minnesota Sea Grant. 

 People interested in attending the symposium can see the agenda and register at the Sea Grant website: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/biocontrol

Climate change, declining moose, St. Croix ruling

February 16, 2010

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.

How will climate change affect ecosystems?
Scientists have made lots of projections over the past few years about how warming temperatures and a changing climate will affect the planet. Real-world measurements have confirmed at least some of them: sea level is clearly rising, for instance, and the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is shrinking and thinning — in the latter case, faster than anyone had expected just a few years ago.

Other measurements are a lot more difficult, though. It’s reasonable to expect, for example, that ecosystems will change as plants and animals respond to a rising thermometer — but how do you measure the change of an ecosystem that may consist of hundreds or even thousands of species?

 The answer, evident in a paper just published in the journal Global Change Biology, is that it isn’t easy — but it’s possible nevertheless. A team of scientists led by Stephen Thackeray, an expert on lake ecology at the United Kingdom’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has combed through observations of more than 700 species of fish, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, plankton and a wide variety of plants across the U.K. taken between 1976 and 2005, and found a consistent trend: more than 80% of “biological events” — including flowering of plants, ovulation among mammals and migration of birds — are coming earlier today than they were in the 1970s.
–Time Magazine

 Minnesota moose decline, survey indicates
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Deparment of Natural Resources. 

Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 13-year decline and dropping to a record low of 28 calves per 100 cows. 

“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. 

Moose populations are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeast Minnesota moose range. Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 5,500 moose in northeastern Minnesota. The estimate, while not statistically different from last year’s 7,600, reinforces the inference that the moose population is declining.
–DNR news release 

Supreme Court rules against DNR on St. Croix mansion
The Minnesota Supreme Court sided with broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard in his fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over building a 10,000-square-foot house on the St. Croix River.

 The court ruled that the DNR, which oversees the lower portion of the federally protected riverway, had no authority to overturn the city of Lakeland’s approval of the project.

 Hubbard said the ruling vindicates what he has argued since the case began almost four years ago.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

DNR downplays court ruling’s impact
Is the crown jewel of regional rivers in trouble? 

No, said the deputy commissioner of the state agency that no longer will be able to veto local government shoreline decisions along the St. Croix River.

 Larry Kramka said the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that takes away the state’s ability to govern “setback variances” on waterfront construction won’t lead to significant new development pressure on the river. 

“All of the requirements remain in effect,” said Kramka, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The only part that was found illegal was that the DNR had a veto.”
–The Star Tribune

 Close Chicago canal, invasive species expert says
Unless Congress or federal agencies decide to permanently wall off the infamous Sanitary and Ship Canal from the Great Lakes, it will continue to be a superhighway for invasive species, a scientist warned at a Congressional hearing.

 The canal already has helped to spread invasive species such as Asian carp between the  Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and there are other species waiting to invade in both directions, said David Lodge, director of the Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame. Lodge is among the scientists conducting DNA testing for Asian carp in the canal.

“This is not just about Asian carp,” he told members of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
–The Detroit Free Press

 U.S. proposes $78.5 million anti-carp plan
Federal authorities presented a $78.5 million plan intended to block Asian carp, a hungry, huge, nonnative fish, from invading the Great Lakes.

 The threat has grown increasingly tense throughout the region in recent months as genetic material from the fish was found near and even in Lake Michigan.

In a meeting in Washington with leaders of some Great Lakes states, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies laid out an “Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework” to ensure that the fish, known to take over entire ecosystems, do not establish themselves in the lakes.
–The New York Times 

California eyes 43-mile tunnel for water
A giant tunnel – not a canal – has emerged as the leading option to ship Sacramento River water across the Delta to thirsty Californians from the Silicon Valley to San Diego.

 Officials guiding the Bay Delta Conservation Plan chose the tunnel for more detailed study at a meeting in Sacramento. The plan is an effort to secure California water supplies from environmental problems, flood risk and rising sea levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

About 25 million Californians and 2 million acres of farmland depend on the Delta today for at least some of their water supplies.
–The Sacramento Bee

Disinfectant reduces fish virus transmission
A disinfection solution presently used for salmon eggs also prevents transmission of the virus that causes viral hemorrhagic septicemia or VHS — one of the most dangerous viral diseases of fish — in other hatchery-reared fish eggs, according to new U.S. Geological Survey-led research. 

VHS has caused large fish kills in wild fish in the U.S., especially in the Great Lakes region, where thousands of fish have died from the virus over the last few years.  The disease causes internal bleeding in fish, and although in the family of viruses that includes rabies, is not harmful to humans. Thus far, the virus has been found in more than 25 species of fish in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, St. Clair, Superior and Ontario, as well as the Saint Lawrence River and inland lakes in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin.
–USGS News Release

 Nitrate limits working in Europe
The implementation of legislation to prevent nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters is proving effective, a European Commission report says.

 However, in some regions, nitrate concentrations exceed water quality standards and farmers must adopt sustainable practices, said the report on the implementation of the nitrates directive. It reported that between 2004 and 2007, nitrate concentrations in surface water including rivers, lakes and canals remained stable or fell at 70 per cent of monitored sites. Quality at 66 per cent of groundwater monitoring sites was stable or improving. 

But the report revealed a number of regions where nitrate levels were “worrying” in groundwater sites, including parts of Estonia, southeast Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, several parts of France, northern Italy, northeast Spain, southeast Slovakia, southern Romania, Malta and Cyprus.
–The Irish Times 

UN climate scientist faces scrutiny
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist’s version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations’ climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore. 

 But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso,  a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri’s resignation. 

Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
–The New York Times 

U.S. consolidates climate-change team
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will create a new  climate change office to gather and provide data to governments, industry and academia as part of a broad federal effort to prepare for long-term changes to the planet, officials said.

The new unit, to be known as the NOAA Climate Service, will assemble the roughly 550 scientists and analysts already working on the issue at the agency into a cohesive group under a single leader.

 The climate service is designed to be analogous to the National Weather Service, also part of NOAA, which celebrates its 140th birthday this month. Officials said they hoped the reorganization would shore up the profile of government climate science and perhaps drive the creation of new businesses like those that repackage and sell weather and census data.
–The New York Times

Two slots on Clean Water Council are open
The Minnesota Clean Water Council, which advises the governor and Legislature on water policy, has two vacancies. One is for a member representing an environmental organization to complete a four-year term expiring on Jan. 3, 2011. The second vacancy is for a representative of tribal governments. 

Council members are appointed by the Governor. The application deadline for the slot reserved for environmental organizations is Tuesday, Feb. 23. Information about the Clean Water Council and this vacancy can be found on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site, along with the application forms. Information about the Clean Water Council; its members, publications, and past meeting agendas and minutes can be found on the council’s web site at Clean Water Council

The vacancy for the tribal representative will be posted in March on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site.
–Clean Water Council news release 

California company eyes Mojave groundwater
More water could exist below privately owned valleys in the eastern Mojave Desert than in all of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, according to a geological study released by the company that hopes to tap the vast supply.

The study by CH2M Hill, a Colorado-based environmental consulting firm, also estimated that rain and snowmelt add about 32,000 acre-feet of water a year into the aquifer below the Cadiz Valley and nearby areas. That’s more than three times as much as previous estimates, a company official said.

“We always believed that this is a significant water resource, but having these findings, we are now able to point to the science behind it,” said Courtney Degener, investor relations manager for the Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc.

 The company wants to use the aquifer about 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms to store water from the Colorado River and then pump out a combination of stored and natural water at a volume of 50,000 acre-feet each year — enough to meet the needs of about 400,000 people.
–The Press-Enterprise 

China’s water pollution doubles in new report
China’s government unveiled its most detailed survey ever of the pollution plaguing the country, revealing that water pollution in 2007 was more than twice as severe as official figures that had long omitted agricultural waste. 

The first-ever national pollution census, environmentalists said, represented a small step forward for China in terms of transparency. But the results also raised serious questions about the shortcomings of China’s previous pollution data and suggested that even with limited progress in some areas, the country still had a long way to go to clean its waterways and air. 

The pollution census, scheduled to be repeated in 2020, took more than two years to complete. It involved 570,000 people, and included 1.1 billion pieces of data from nearly 6 million sources of pollution, including factories, farms, homes and pollution-treatment facilities, the government announced at a news conference.
–The New York Times

U.S. considers protection for coral
The Obama administration will consider federal protection for 82 coral species threatened by warming water temperatures.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said that it has found “substantial scientific or commercial information” that Caribbean and Indo-Pacific corals may be threatened or endangered.

 Environmentalists have predicted the corals — found near Florida, Hawaii and U.S. territories — could be wiped out by midcentury if the government does not take steps to protect them from warming waters, rising ocean acidity and pollution.

The announcement in the Federal Register launches a formal status review by federal biologists.
–The New York Times

 Rural-urban video conferences planned
As part of a cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, Minnesota Rural Partners Inc. is hosting a series of videoconferences through May 2010 to encourage conversations across the state about rural – urban connections that impact individual lives, communities, and work.  

 The goal is to foster increased innovation and job growth by leveraging the strengths of rural and urban areas.

The USDA’s Rural Development program aims to improve housing, create jobs and improve the lives of residents of rural communities. Minnesota Rural Partners is a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that works to strengthen rural-urban partnering, increase community entrepreneurship and support continued broadband deployment in rural communities. 

“We want to get Minnesotans talking and thinking about the interdependence between rural and urban areas, as well as future opportunities arising from stronger rural-urban connections,” said Jane Leonard, president of Minnesota Rural Partners. 

The videoconferences will culminate in a Symposium on Small Towns and Rural-Urban Gathering at the University of Minnesota, Morris, on June 9 and 10.  

Participants are asked to register for videoconferences in advance at http://blog.rurb.mn/videoconferences/. Information on the video conferences is available there.

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