Archive for the ‘Twin Cities metro area’ Category

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

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Infested lake waters, trash burners and lawn-mowing goats

June 1, 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.

Lake Winnibigoshish now designated “infested water”
Anglers and boaters must adhere to stricter rules on Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River because the lake has been designated “infested waters” under state regulations.

The infested-waters designation was made May 7 because of an exotic species, the faucet snail, first found on the lake in 2007. The snail is a host for a trematode that has caused the die-off of hundreds of scaup and coots on Lake Winnibigoshish during the past two falls’ waterfowl migrations.

Winnie’s designation as an infested water will have broad implications.

“I think it’s a real big deal,” said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. “It’s important we get the word out to folks so they comply with the laws that are intended to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species to other waters.”
-Duluth News Tribune

UM students work on clean water to India
A team of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students from a civil engineering class are in India to share their ideas and plans for helping bring clean water to thousands of residents living in the slums of Mumbai — the same impoverished area that provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The University of Minnesota students, who collaborated with students from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, are winners of the first-ever Acara Challenge sponsored by the Minnesota-based Acara Institute, a non-profit institute that tackles global problems through sustainable business solutions.
–UM News Service

Environmental fund closes down
John Hunting, an heir to the Steelcase office furniture fortune, always knew that his foundation, the Beldon Fund, would have a limited life span.

“I felt as an environmentalist that it was imperative to spend the money now, because it would be silly to wait for the future if there wasn’t going to be a future,” Mr. Hunting said in an interview the other day. “And I also felt that if I died and there was a board running things, the money might start going to causes I wasn’t interested in funding.”

On Friday, the Beldon Fund closed its doors, having spent about $120 million over a decade strengthening environmental organizations in five states — Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin — and increasing awareness of the impact that environmental degradation has on human health.
–The New York Times

Downtown Minneapolis Trash Burn to Increase 20 Percent
Just in time for the return of outdoor baseball to Minnesota, the downtown garbage burner is planning to expand next door to the new ballpark.

A proposal making its way through Minneapolis City Hall would allow the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center to burn as much as 20 percent more trash — about 200 tons more per day — the first expansion since the burner was built in 1989. The change would occur next summer when the Minnesota Twins would be playing their first season at Target Field.

Opposition so far is limited to environmental activist Leslie Davis, who unsuccessfully sued to block construction of the stadium until the environmental impact of its location was studied. Twins and ballpark officials support the burner plans.
-Star Tribune

Minnesota to receive $107 million for Clean Water Fund
Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that Minnesota will receive more than $107 million in funding for the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The money will also come, in part, from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds will help jumpstart the economy and create jobs, while improving water quality.

“I believe the first responsibility of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, and making sure people have clean water to drink is an important part of that,” said Klobuchar.
–KSTP TV

Funding granted for shoreline stabilization project
A grant received by the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (EOTSWCD) will go toward shoreline stabilization projects.

The funding was granted by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to pay for services provided by a Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC) crew. The funding was available through the Clean Water Legacy program to assist with projects that help protect and restore water quality.
–The Fergus Falls Daily Journal

Well water could cause health problems in children
Private well water should be tested yearly, and in some cases more often, according to new guidance offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The recommendations call for annual well testing, especially for nitrate and microorganisms such as coliform bacteria, which can indicate that sewage has contaminated the well. The recommendations point out circumstances when additional testing should occur, including testing when there is a new infant in the house or if the well is subjected to structural damage.
–Science Daily

Shoreview tests permeable paving
Shoreview is betting on a new “green” concrete paving method that lets rainwater pass right through the street surface to prevent damaging runoff.

Pervious concrete — made of gravel and cement minus the sand that gives regular concrete its impenetrable density — has the porous quality of a Rice Krispies bar.

Because it will allow water to drain straight to the ground below, Shoreview will install about a mile of pervious concrete streets without storm sewers in the Woodbridge neighborhood on Lake Owasso.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin volunteers document life in holding ponds
Jody Barbeau wades into a shallow pond in woods less than a mile from shoppers at Mayfair Mall and commuters on congested U.S. Highway 45 – to glimpse a bustling community of other creatures.

Two mallard ducks cautiously paddle away from Barbeau, but there is no indication of aquatic life until he lifts a net out of the water.

Reddish dots on the fabric are water mites, he said.

A nearly transparent crustacean with a bulbous head is a male fairy shrimp, a relative of the lobster, said Barbeau, a biologist and volunteer pond monitor. They float belly up.

An explosion of fairy shrimp in late April and early May clogged the
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Maryland goats invasives to save turtles
A herd of goats coming to the rescue of a handful of imperiled turtles may sound like the plot of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon show, but that’s just what’s happening in the Carroll County town of Hampstead.

The State Highway Administration has enlisted the help of about 40 goats to devour invasive plant species in wetlands along the path of the soon-to-open, 4.4-mile Hampstead Bypass to protect the habitat of the bog turtle – a species listed as threatened in Maryland.

State highway officials decided to give the goats a tryout as four-legged lawn mowers rather than to attack the unwanted vegetation with mechanical mowers that might have killed the diminutive reptiles or damaged their boggy habitat on the fringe of Hampstead. The goats – leased from a local farmer who prefers to remain anonymous – have been on the job for a week, and highway officials say that so far they seem to be up to the task.
–The Baltimore Sun

Research: Environmental estrogens impact male rats
A five-generation rat study provides the clearest evidence to date that exposure to low levels of environmental estrogens can increase the risk of abnormal cell growth in the male breast.  Abnormalities which could have the potential to become cancerous developed in the mammary gland tissue of male rats that were exposed to either the soy-based phytoestrogen genistein or ethinyl estradiol – an estrogen used in birth control pills. The findings support a growing concern that exposure to low levels of estrogen in the environment might increase the risk of breast cancer.
–Environmental Health News

Legislation limits DNR oversight of Mississippi
Cities and homeowners who feared new rules would reduce their control over property and development are welcoming changes made in the critical-river-area measure signed by the governor.

Legislators said the bill, included in the Legacy Amendment law, was modified to protect homeowners and cities along a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton.

The measure allocated $500,000 over two years for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise rules for new development along the corridor. The DNR is to begin developing rules in January.
–The Star Tribune

Australian desalination plant under way
Sydney’s controversial desalination plant is almost 80 per cent complete and will start pumping drinking water this summer, the New South Wales  government says.

NSW Water Minister Phillip Costa says the plant, at Kurnell is Sydney’s south, will be able to provide 15 per cent of the city’s water within five years.

“It’s well and truly advanced, 70 to 80 per cent complete. Commissioning will occur by the end of the year,” he told a Sydney conference on NSW’s urban water sustainability. “We’re looking at water coming online in the summer 09-10. Once operational the plant will be capable of producing 250 million litres of water a day.”
–theage.com.au

Northeastern U.S. could face rising seas
In the debate over global warming, one thing is clear: as the planet gets warmer, sea levels will rise. But how much, where and how soon? Those questions are notoriously hard to answer.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colo., are now adding to the complexity with a new prediction. If the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets continues to accelerate, they say, sea levels will rise even more in the northeastern United States and Maritime Canada than in other areas around the world.
–The New York Times

Sensors speed water quality research

May 26, 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.

UM studies remote sensors for water quality
Measuring water quality in lakes and streams traditionally starts with a time-consuming trip with a bucket to get a water sample for the laboratory.

Now University of Minnesota water researchers have found a way to skip that step.

In an ongoing study of urban creeks and watersheds that is focusing this summer on Lake Pamela in Edina, the university is taking thousands of water-quality readings a day using underwater sensors that relay the data by cell phone to the U’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

The study promises to “move environmental monitoring to the next level and improve our understanding and management of water resources,” said Deb Swackhamer, co-director of the university’s Water Resources Center.
–The Star Tribune

N. Mankato says ‘no’ to paying for aquifer study
North Mankato is the lone holdout in a Department of Natural Resources plan to have the seven largest users of an area aquifer split the costs of a study to see if it’s being depleted.

The study’s cost was about $20,000 in 2008, and it may rise.

“The costs are a little unpredictable,” said Shannon Fisher, who is a mediator for the project on behalf of the Minnesota River Board and the aquifer’s users.

The open-ended price of the study is one of the reasons North Mankato chose not to sign the agreement, City Administrator Wendell Sande said.
–The Mankato Free Press

Wireless sensors save water on golf courses
In seven years of overseeing every root and blade of grass on the grounds at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Matt Shaffer has built a reputation on innovation and conservation. An early advocate of course playability over aesthetics, he long lived by the maxim “the drier, the better.”

But when a stifling heat wave threatened the club’s greens before the 2005 United States Amateur Championship — a record 17th U.S.G.A. championship at Merion — Shaffer turned to his old boss, Paul R. Latshaw Sr., for advice. Latshaw told him there was one way he could continue to cut down water use while keeping his turf dry and as fast as a microwave: sensors.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin utilities question water fee
A municipal water utilities lobbying group is raising concerns about new fees the governor is proposing to fund staff to oversee the implementation of the Great Lakes water compact.

A provision in Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed budget calls for the Department of Natural Resources to design new fees to impose on power companies, public water utilities and other major water users in the Great Lakes basin.

The intent is to create a fee structure that would raise the estimated $1 million needed annually to run the compact oversight and implementation program, said Eric Ebersberger, water section chief in the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground Water.

But a lobbying group for public utilities is urging the state Legislature to set the fees by statute so any increase would have to be subsequently approved by lawmakers.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Stimulus funds to rebuild Red Wing dam
The lock and dam on the Mississippi River near Red Wing, Minn., the site of more than 100 barge accidents because of the hazardous current, will undergo $70 million in safety improvements over the next two years under the nation’s economic stimulus program, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

It is one of the Corps’ largest projects under the program, although a long-standing conflict with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the lack of a fish passage threatens to block some of the work.

Critics led by the Wisconsin DNR also object to the Corps’ plans to cut down trees used by perching bald eagles and to embed concrete blocks along vast stretches of shore and bottom land on the Wisconsin side of the river.
–The Star Tribune

Chemical companies win groundwater case
After five months of trial in San Francisco Superior Court, a jury cleared a handful of chemical companies of nearly all the claims brought against them by the city of Modesto, Calif., in the latest phase of a decade-old groundwater pollution case.

The jury did award Modesto about $18.3 million in damages to cover cleanup costs, but that amount could be nullified by settlements the city has already reached with other defendants.

The jury also decided that the remaining defendants, including the Dow Chemical Co., did not act with malice when they manufactured and distributed chemicals, such as perchloroethylene, to dry cleaners in Modesto. That rules out punitive damages, which could have been much larger.
–law.com

Bottled water deposit bill challenged
A coalition of bottled water companies filed suit to block an expanded bottle deposit law scheduled to take effect next month, arguing that the law, which imposes a deposit fee on bottled water sold in New York State, is unconstitutional.

The coalition includes Nestle Waters North America, the International Bottled Water Association, and industry trade group, and Keeper Springs, a small bottler owned by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and environmental advocate.

The new law requires distributors to collect a 5-cent deposit per bottle of water, which can in turn be redeemed by consumers, provisions designed to encourage New Yorkers to recycle the billions of water bottles now thrown away each year. But companies that bottle water must affix a new universal product code label to bottles sold in New York.
–The New York Times

DNR begins campaign against invasives
Memorial Day weekend, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers joined forces with other law enforcement agencies to prevent the transportation of aquatic invasive species from the Brainerd, Lake Mille Lacs and Prior Lake areas.

The increasing zebra mussel populations at Lake Mille Lacs and Rice Lake near Brainerd, and the new zebra mussel infestation at Prior Lake in Scott County are a particular concern.

Minnesota’s water resources are threatened by numerous aquatic invasive species such as the zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and purple loosestrife. These species could be easily spread within the state if citizens, businesses and visitors don’t take the necessary steps to contain them.

The DNR offered these suggestions:

Drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells before leaving any water access.

  • Remove aquatic plants from boats and trailers to prevent the spread of invasive species. The law requires it.
  • Drain all water from your boat when leaving waters that have been designated as infested with spiny water flea or zebra mussels.

The coordinated enforcement effort will include an increased presence at public water accesses, where officers will look closely for violators who could face fines of up to $500.
–Minnesota DNR news release

League plans 5/21 forum on water quality

May 18, 2009

The South Tonka League of Women Voters, with assistance from the Freshwater Society, is sponsoring a public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21, on the water quality of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.

Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam, a former commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources,  and Glenn Skuta, a manager of the Minnesota  Pollution Control Agency’s Watershed Section, will be the featured speakers.

The forum will be at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior.

A second forum, devoted to groundwater, is planned in September

A pollution case goes to trial

May 4, 2009

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

Water pollution case goes to trial
After five years, it comes down to this.

The 3M Co. pollution case — at least, what’s left of it — staggers into court today.

Dozens of lawyers have been working since 2005 for this day, the start of a jury trial expected to last eight weeks.

Chemicals found in Washington County drinking water have cost the company more than $56 million in cleanup costs, and the current lawsuit could boost that by millions.

But as big as the lawsuit is, it is a puny version of what it could have been.

At one point, it had the potential of being one of the largest environmental lawsuits in state history.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Air pollutants diverted to waterways
Faced with new evidence that utilities across the country are dumping toxic sludge into waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.

Plants in Florida, Pennsylvania and several other states have flushed wastewater with levels of selenium and other toxins that far exceed the EPA’s freshwater and saltwater standards aimed at protecting aquatic life, according to data the agency has collected over the past few years. While selenium can be beneficial in tiny amounts, elevated levels damage not only fish but also birds and people who consume contaminated fish.

But the reason more selenium and metals such as arsenic are now entering U.S. waterways is because the federal government has pressed utilities to install pollution-control “scrubbing” technology that captures contaminants headed for smokestacks and stores them as coal ash or sludge. The EPA estimates that these two types of coal combustion residue — often kept in outdoor pools or flushed into nearby rivers and streams — amount to roughly 130,000 tons per year and will climb to an estimated 175,000 tons by 2015.
–The Washington Post

What’s a synonym for global warming?
The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”
–The New York Times

St. Lawrence Seaway: Economic boon, pathway for invasives

Fifty years ago, an oceangoing ship arrived in the Duluth-Superior harbor for the first time. As of that day, the St. Lawrence Seaway System had connected Duluth, in the middle of the continent, with the Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 miles away. The Seaway is considered a modern engineering marvel. But some think it was a colossal mistake — an open invitation to destructive and aggressive plants and animals from overseas.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Cleaner lakes? It was due to lack of rain
Most west-metro lakes were cleaner last year, but the improvement was more a product of the dry weather than efforts to curb pollution, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District says.

Lower-than-usual rainfall caused fewer pollutants to wash into the lakes, so most improved by a half to a full letter grade in ratings just released by the district.

The Watershed District has been grading its lakes on an A-to-F scale since 1989 based on water clarity, algae growth and phosphorus levels. Of the 62 sites graded in 2008, 40 showed improvement, nine were rated lower in quality, and 11 were unchanged from 2007. Two had not been monitored the previous year.

The grades are available at: www.minnehahacreek.org/wq_lake_grades.php.
–The Star Tribune

Review asked of permitting for mega-dairy
An environmental group is accusing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of failing to comply with environmental safeguards in issuing permits to Rosendale Dairy.

Members of People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale have filed a petition with the DNR seeking review of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit issued recently to Rosendale Dairy, a new industrial livestock facility in Fond du Lac County that plans to become Wisconsin’s largest dairy.

Owner Jim Ostrom said the environmental community, including PEPL, asked the DNR to conduct an extensive environmental impact study, which preceded issuance of the wastewater discharge permit.

“The result was the most scrutinized, permitted and reviewed farm in our state’s history,” Ostrom said. “And after that very elaborate and extensive review, the DNR issued permits.”
–The Reporter

Illinois city’s records seized in water case
Federal agents and the Illinois state police raided Village Hall here, seizing Crestwood’s drinking water records in a search for evidence of environmental crimes, officials said.

The raid was prompted by recent accusations that for 21 years Crestwood officials supplemented the village’s water supply, which comes from Lake Michigan, with water from a local well despite a warning in 1986 from state environmental officials that doing so was dangerous and illegal.
–The New York Times

Bush rule on mountaintop mining may change

The Obama administration stepped up efforts to reverse a rule adopted late in the Bush administration that makes it easier for companies to deposit debris from mountaintop coal mining near streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the rule was legally flawed and that he had asked government lawyers to press a federal court to vacate it and send it back for reworking. “The so-called stream buffer zone rule simply doesn’t pass muster with respect to adequately protecting water quality and stream habitat that communities rely on in coal country,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The New York Times

Jettisoning cafeteria trays saves water
John Belushi memorialized them in “Animal House” as he stockpiled edible projectiles for an epic food fight. Generations of college students in the Northeast have deployed them as makeshift sleds. But the once-ubiquitous cafeteria tray, with so many glasses of soda, juice and milk lined up across the top, could soon join the typewriter as a campus relic.

Scores of colleges and universities across the country are shelving the trays in hopes of conserving water, cutting food waste, softening the ambience and saving money.
–The New York Times

Vermont may cede water quality responsibility to EPA
Frustrated by continuing lawsuits and disagreements over water protection in Vermont, the state may find itself giving back to the federal government authority for regulating water pollution.

Such a move would have a major impact on businesses, farmers and homeowners in the state, since it would put the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Boston – not state officials – in charge of issuing and administering a permit for a stormwater system, or a farm or a wastewater treatment plant. Besides review and permitting being done in Boston instead of by state environmental officials in Waterbury, it could also mean different – perhaps more rigid – standards would be put in place.

The Agency of Natural Resources is unlikely to recommend to Gov. James Douglas that he give up Clean Water Act authority, and the EPA might not accept the return of the authority – and the work – if requested. But it may become necessary if the state, environmental groups and the feds cannot reach an agreement on how to manage stormwater discharges into five streams in Chittenden County, said Jonathan Wood, secretary of the state environmental agency.
–The Times Argus

L.A. tables referendum on storm water fee
The plan to ask property owners across Los Angeles to quadruple their storm-water pollution cleanup fees over the next five years has been tabled because of concern that it was prepared in haste and might not pass, city officials said.

To get the additional fees in 2010, the City Council had to decide whether to send out more than 800,000 mail-in ballots — a process rarely, if ever, used citywide.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he feared that the plan, which became public only over the last week, would experience the same fate as Measure B, the solar energy plan defeated in the March 3 election after critics said it had been hurried to the ballot.

“It’s going to get killed, for now,” said Garcetti after discussing the plan at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.
–The Los Angeles Times

California grape growers question water reuse
When Jason Passalacqua, a Dry Creek Valley winery owner, heard about a plan to use highly treated wastewater to irrigate his vineyards, he thought it was a good idea.

“When I first heard about reuse, I thought, ‘Great,’ ” he said.

But he now considers the plan to use wastewater to grow grapes a “threat to the environment” of Dry Creek Valley and its world-class wines.

Passalacqua belongs to a coalition of grape growers, winemakers, environmentalists and others opposed to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s plan for a $385 million project that could ship recycled water primarily from Santa Rosa’s regional sewage treatment plant to northern Sonoma County for agricultural use.
–Santa Rosa Press Democrat

‘Lake Minnetonka’s Future’ to be aired

April 27, 2009

“Lake Minnetonka’s Future,” a public television documentary produced in 2003-04 with assistance from the Freshwater Society, will be re-broadcast at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 30, on public television stations throughout Minnesota.

The program examines the relationship between water quality and phosphorus fertilizers and water running into the lake from homes. The 30-minute broadcast will be shown on the digital MN Channel operated by all the public stations.

It’s official. Lake Minnetonka ice-out declared

April 14, 2009

Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was declared at 6:42 p.m. Monday, April 13. See the Freshwater Society web site for a calendar of previous ice-out dates.

Ice-out update

April 13, 2009

No ice-out date for Lake Minnetonka has yet been declared. As of early afternoon on Monday, April 13, there was still significant ice between Big Island and Linwood Road in Deephaven.

No ice-out declared yet

April 8, 2009

The official ice-out on Lake Minnetonka has not yet been declared by the Freshwater Society, although the West Arm of the lake and St. Albans Bay were clear, as of Wednesday afternoon, April 8.

UM StreamLab mimics natural processes

April 3, 2009

(This article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. Read it here, or go to www.freshwater.org.)

This summer, there are going to be some big floods in Minneapolis.

The floods won’t inundate Hennepin Avenue, they won’t seep into the IDS Crystal Court or the Metrodome and they won’t displace residents of any of the city’s neighborhoods.

In fact, the floods won’t be real floods at all. They will be a carefully planned experiment in which torrents of water – each the equivalent of a once-in-50-years flood – will be sent rushing through the floodplain of the small artificial stream that is the heart of the University of Minnesota’s new Outdoor StreamLab.

The fake floods, nine-hour events intended to allow researchers to observe and precisely measure how engineered structures and vegetation such as sedges and rushes stabilize stream banks and prevent the loss of soil to high water, are an example of the controlled experiments the Outdoor StreamLab makes possible.

“What we have is an opportunity to change the stream, manipulate what’s entering the system, and see how it affects the water, sediment, and organisms within the stream,” said Anne Lightbody, a university research fellow who is director of the lab.

The $500,000 artificial stream cutting through an artificial flood plain has been used by researchers since last summer. It is across the Mississippi River from Downtown Minneapolis, a little way upstream from the Stone Arch Bridge. Water from the Mississippi is diverted into the stream through two 18-inch pipes.

Despite its relatively small size – 130 feet by 60 feet, about one-sixth the size of a football field – the StreamLab stream lab is, by far, the largest such facility in the United States. It is a dramatic improvement on the indoor flumes and basins that researchers long have used to model stream behavior in the university’s nearby St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

“Everything we do here is trying to build small-scale models of natural phenomena,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, the director of the St. Anthony Falls Lab. “The indoor lab is very useful and serves its purpose, but it has limitations.”
The outdoor lab is operated as a partnership between the St. Anthony Falls Lab and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, a multi-university consortium sponsored by the National Science Foundation and housed at the St. Anthony Falls Lab.

The stream in the Outdoor SteamLab is about 9 feet wide and about a foot deep in its quiet pools, a few inches deep where it flows over rocks and gravel. It allows experiments that mimic creeks and streams. Eventually, Sotiropoulos hopes, the partners will build a bigger, much longer, artificial stream adjacent to the current one that would allow researchers to conduct experiments more applicable to large rivers.

For now, though, the researchers using the Outdoor StreamLab are reveling in their ability to manipulate the flow and environment of the artificial stream for experiments.

Lightbody is leading research on the impact of sediment pollution on aquatic insects.
Last summer, researchers introduced about a ton each of sand, clay and top soil into the stream – an attempt to replicate the kind of sedimentation that would accompany an intense storm. Then they captured and counted the insect species floating in the water and clinging to rocks in the shallows, upstream and downstream of the sedimentation.

Another research project is attempting to measure the extent to which nitrogen, a common pollutant, is removed from stream water when water flows out of the stream, into the sub-surface water table and then back again into the stream.

Still another research project looked at the way sediment moved within the stream. The stream was constructed with a flat bottom, but over a short time that changed. To the delight of the researchers, the artificial flow created sand bars on the inside of bends and deep pools on the outside, the same behavior as a natural stream.

“The river is continually moving sediment, and the question of how much it is moving and where it is putting it is important in streams of all sizes,” Lightbody said.