Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Falling rivers, disappearing prairies, Girl Scouts

September 24, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Girl Scout service project to protect water 
On Oct. 13, thousands of Girl Scouts in 49 counties in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin will celebrate the Girl Scouts’ centennial with a service project aimed at protecting lakes and rivers.

Some 36,000 girls, assisted by 18,000 adults, will clean up leaves, grass clipping and other debris from streets and storm sewer grates in their neighborhoods.

The project – the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service – is a Community Clean-Up for Water Quality. It is sponsored by 3M and was planned and organized by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys in partnership with the Freshwater Society and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley.

The goal is to prevent excess algae growth in lakes and river by eliminating the phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that result from the breakdown of organic matter and flow – untreated — through storm sewers to surface waters.

Learn more about the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service.

Minnesota streams near record lows 
The drought has pushed river levels in some parts of Minnesota to near record lows, forcing the state Department of Natural Resources to suspend water pumping permits for dozens of businesses and other users.

Falling river levels also have transformed many streams, including the Minnesota River, which is dramatically low near Mankato, with a daily flow of 265 cubic feet per second, about a third of what it should be this time of year.

At about 1 foot, the water level is the third-lowest on record. Normally the river might be 10 feet deep in spots, and the length of a football field or more across. But near downtown Mankato, the river is now more sand than stream.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Star Tribune documents loss of prairie lands
Read a fine Star Tribune article on the transformation of prairie lands in Minnesota and the Dakotas into corn and soybean fields. The piece was written by environmental reporter Josephine Marcotty.

IATP gets grant for Great Lakes work 
The U.S. Environmental Agency awarded a $150,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy for a project to reduce releases of toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes basin. This is one of three GLRI grants focused on pollution prevention that EPA is announcing during National Pollution Prevention Week.

“This EPA grant will be used to help businesses replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives and to prevent pollution in the Great Lakes basin,” said EPA Regional Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will use the grant to provide businesses that use toxic chemicals with “green chemistry” tools and information about safer alternatives. Workshops will be held for businesses throughout the Great Lakes region.
–EPA News Release

Cover crops needed after drought 
Drought-decimated corn crops are likely to leave residual nitrate in soils after harvest, making this year ideal for farmers to plant cover crops, says a Purdue Extension agronomist.

Cover crops can “scavenge” residual nitrate and recycle it through biomass. The process helps reduce nutrient loss through leaching and runoff, and makes some of those nutrients available for the next cash crop.

“This year is a great example of when a cover crop is needed to trap the much larger amount of residual nitrate that will be present after the poor corn crop,” said Eileen Kladivko, Purdue University professor of agronomy. “Farmers who lose residual nitrogen also are losing the opportunity to trap that nitrogen and keep it in their fields for subsequent crop use.”
–Pork Network

DNR to lease mineral rights
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is making plans to offer leases in October for metallic minerals exploration and mining in three northeast Minnesota counties.

Lease sale plans were published in the Environmental Quality Board Monitor and the State Register on Sept. 17. Notice of the intent to hold the sale was previously announced in July.

The leases under consideration are in Aitkin, St. Louis and Lake counties. The public lease sale will be held Oct. 24. Most of the potential tracts have been offered for lease multiple times in the past. Other tracts will be offered for the first time.

It is the state’s 33rd sale of mining leases since 1966. A list of properties offered for leasing can be reviewed by visiting the DNR website. Areas not considered for mineral exploration and mining leases are state parks, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other protected lands.
–DNR News Release

Kentucky coal company accepts pollution penalty 
One of Kentucky’s largest surface coal-mining companies has agreed to pay $575,000 in a case that involved thousands of alleged instances of fraudulent or improper water-pollution discharge reports.

International Coal Group, or ICG, has reached an agreement in principle with the state and environmental groups to settle claims against the company, according to a status report on the lawsuit the state Energy and Environmental Cabinet filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

The report said ICG would pay Eastern Kentucky PRIDE $335,000 to rid homes of illegal “straight pipe” sewage discharges, which have fouled water quality in some areas of Eastern Kentucky. ICG also will pay the state $240,000 to assess the impact of surface mining on waterways.
–The Lexington Herald Leader

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It’s a twofer: Oct. 4 lectures on nitrogen and Farm Bill

September 24, 2012

Put a big circle around Thursday, Oct. 4, on your calendar.

Otto Doering

Otto Doering

Otto Doering, an agricultural economist from Purdue will present two important talks on that date at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Doering is coming to Minnesota to deliver a 7 p.m. lecture in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.  The lecture will be on the pollution of water and air by excess nitrogen.

Last year, Doering chaired a committee that wrote an important report on the problem of reactive – mostly human-created – nitrogen, and the difficult policy choices involved in any attempt to reduce the release of nitrogen from farm fertilizers and from the burning of fossil fuels.

His talk is titled Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.

Learn more about the lecture and register to attend. Read a q-and-a interview with Doering.  If you cannot attend the lecture in person, it will be available on live video.

While he is in Minnesota for the nitrogen lecture, Doering also will present a talk at 2 p.m. on the federal Farm Bill.  Doering has extensive background and expertise on Farm Bill legislation. His talk is titled Looking Back on the Coming Farm Bill: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.

Learn more about that free, public presentation.

Water, science and the environment

September 17, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Hypoxia Task Force looks to reduce nitrogen
The drought has temporarily done this year what several state and federal programs have tried to do in terms of reducing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the fluctuating levels of hypoxia in the Gulf will surely rise next year if rains return to the Mississippi River basin.

The federal government’s Hypoxia Task Force met to continue its quest for long-term strategies for reducing nitrate loads in the Gulf by as much as 45%.

Success would appear frustratingly slow for the state-federal task force with numerous presentations Tuesday about the need to expand and coordinate water-quality monitoring, as well as better examine the value and economics of applying different practices on the land. Still, Chairwoman Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting administrator for water quality, stressed gains have been made for the task force, now in its 15th year.

“We’re picking up a lot of momentum but it takes awhile to make the kinds of changes we’re talking about,” Stoner said. “It will take some time to see some results but the first thing to do is to agree upon the approaches and changes to be made,” Stoner said.
–The Progressive Farmer

Don’t miss our Oct. 4 lecture on nitrogen
Register now to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the serious problem of nitrogen pollution of both water and air. Read q-and-a interview, conducted by Freshwater, with the lecturer, Purdue University agricultural economist Otto Doering.

Asian carp and the presidential race
President Obama has promised billions more dollars in aid and has cracked the whip on the US Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study on the great Great Lakes Asian carp.

Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama’s rival in the election, says the administration is moving too slowly. He has suggested that “America put a man on the moon” in less time than it’s taking to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of the big fish migrating up the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to broach Lake Michigan at Chicago.

Sure, encroaching carp aren’t in the league with jobs or foreign policy when it comes to national priorities. But the political debate over what to do about the disruptive Asian carp population also isn’t just about the ecology and hydrology of the world’s biggest freshwater system. It’s also about the 64 electoral votes locked up in four Great Lakes battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Army Corps completes Asian carp survey
A study of 18 canals, ditches and other waterways that could link the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds found none was a likely pathway to the lakes for Asian carp, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday, Sept. 14.

The study was part of a broader search for ways to stop the movement of invasive species between the two basins. Of particular concern are bighead and silver carp — ravenous Asian fish that scientists say could out-compete native species for food.

Asian carp infested the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and are approaching a Chicago-area shipping canal through which they might be able to reach Lake Michigan. Under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups, the Army Corps promised to produce options for blocking their passage by the end of next year.
–The Associated Press

DNR restricts withdrawals from low streams
The ongoing drought is forcing the Department of Natural Resources to restrict water use around Minnesota.

More than a dozen industrial and recreational sites have been required to suspend pumping from state waterways.
Levels have sharply declined in rivers and other surface waters as the drought continues. DNR water permits allow a variety of customers to pump water, but those permits also require cutbacks if water levels get too low.

That’s happening now, and recently the DNR suspended numerous water pumping permits. Most are for golf courses or other recreational locations.

“Last week we sent out 16 letters. And there was one in Hubbard County, Blue Earth, one in Martin, several in Polk, to surface water users. And they were told then to stop pumping water as of last Thursday midnight,” said Julie Ekman, DNR water regulations unit supervisor.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Isaac fails to loosen drought’s grip
More than three quarters of the contiguous United States still faces abnormally dry conditions in spite of scattered relief from rains generated by tropical storm system Isaac. As seen on the U.S. Drought Monitor, exceptional drought — the worst category — persists in the very center of the nation from Nebraska south to Texas, east through Missouri and Arkansas to the Mississippi Valley. Much of Georgia is also in exceptional drought.

Drought is the nation’s most costly natural disaster, far exceeding earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and floods. FEMA has estimated that the annual average cost of drought in the United States ranges from $6 to $8 billion. (By comparison, the annual costs of flooding are in the $2 to $4 billion range.) Unlike flooding, drought does not come and go in a single episode. Rather, it often takes a long time for drought to begin to impact an area, and it can fester for months or even years.
–USGS News Release

Journal looks at conservation, climate change
A special research section of the September/October issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, “Conservation practices to mitigate the effects of climate change,” offers a compilation of works that cover the most current advances in the science of conservation practices that may alleviate some of the effects associated with a changing climate.

Follett et al. discuss the effects of climate change on soil carbon and nitrogen storage in the U.S. Great Plains. Chen et al. evaluate a selection of maize inbred lines for drought and heat stress tolerance under field conditions and identify several inbred lines that showed high tolerance to drought. Brown and Huggins quantify agricultural impacts on soil organic carbon sequestration for dryland cropping systems in different agroclimatic zones of the Pacific Northwest.
–SWCS Conservation NewsBriefs

DNR does follow-up searches for invasives
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  biologists and divers searched lake bottoms immediately surrounding areas where zebra mussels were discovered last fall on boat lifts on Lake Irene in Douglas County and Rose Lake in Otter Tail County. The divers did not discover zebra mussels, but searches will continue later this fall when docks and boat lifts are pulled from the shores along these lakes.

“This is a good sign, but these are only preliminary inspections that will help us determine the overall outcome of our efforts,” said Nathan Olson, DNR invasive species specialist in Fergus Falls. “We have more field work to do this fall, sampling the waters for veligers and inspecting docks and boat lifts as folks remove them from these waters.”

Last fall, DNR biologists investigated two separate cases where localized zebra mussel populations were discovered on boat lifts. In one case, mussels were attached to rocks near the boat lift. Both boat lifts had been moved from infested waters to these lakes earlier in 2011.Due to the early detection of zebra mussels in these locations, the DNR immediately treated both areas with copper sulfate, a common chemical used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch. The treatments were conducted by a icensed aquatic pesticide contractor. The searches conducted recently were part of a follow-up plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the early detection and rapid response.
–DNR News Release

Canadian mining firm admits pollution
Canadian mining giant Teck Resources Ltd. has admitted in a U.S. court that effluent from its smelter in southeast British Columbia has polluted the Columbia River in Washington for more than a century.

Teck subsidiary Teck Metals made the admission of fact in a lawsuit brought by a group of U.S. Indian tribes over environmental damage caused by the effluent discharges dating back to 1896.

The agreement, reached on the eve of the trial initiated by the Colville Confederated Tribes, stipulates that some hazardous materials in the slag discharged from Teck’s smelter in Trail, B.C., ended up in the Upper Columbia River south of the border.
–The Canadian Press

Religion, phenology and peregrines on video

May 21, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

G. Tracy Mehan III

G. Tracy Mehan III

Lecture set June 25 on Clean Water Act
Forty years ago this autumn, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and enacted the Clean Water Act. The act dramatically reduced pollution from industry and sewage treatment plants that must obtain federal permits to discharge their wastes. But the legislation was much weaker in dealing with today’s biggest water-quality challenge: Polluted runoff from multiple, diffuse sources, especially from agriculture.

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the Clean Water Act’s successes, political obstacles to strengthening the law and alternate avenues to progress.

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 the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?

Learn more and reserve your place at the lecture.

 

Lecture on religion, the environment
What can environmentalism learn from religion about sustainability?

U.K.-based environmental theologian Martin Palmer will explore how faith traditions encourage us to be a part of nature, not apart from nature as the grand finale speaker in the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s Momentum 2012 event series Wednesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m., at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis.

Palmer is a theologian, author, broadcaster, environmentalist and lay preacher in the Church of England, and serves as secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular non-governmental organization that helps faith-based and international groups develop environmental and conservation projects.

His presentation, “Creation or Ecosystems? Rediscovering Our Place in the Natural World,” will challenge the narrow utilitarian view of our planet and explore how we can tap the storytelling skills of the faiths to imagine and create a better future.

Order tickets for the lecture.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Phenology network reaches milestone
Thanks to citizen-scientists around the country, the USA National Phenology Network hit a major milestone by reaching its one millionth nature observation. 

The millionth observation was done by Lucille Tower, a citizen-scientist in Portland, Ore., who entered a record about seeing maple vines flowering. Her data, like all of the entries, came in through USA-NPN’s online observation program,

Nature’s Notebook, which engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the country to observe and record phenology – the timing of the recurring life events of plants and animals such as when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn or when leaves turn colors in the fall.   

Each record not only represents a single data point — the status of a specific life stage of an individual plant or animal on one day – but also benefits both science and society by helping researchers understand how plants and animals are responding to climate change and, in turn, how those responses are affecting people and ecological systems.   

“My dream is that through the wonders of modern technology and the National Phenology Network we could turn the more than six billion people on the planet into components of our scientific observing system,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “We could make giant leaps in science education, improve the spatial and temporal coverage of the planet, lower the cost of scientific data collection, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process.” 
— USGS News Release

Peregrine chicks on video
The Minnesota DNR is offering live streaming video of peregrine falcon chicks in a nest on the Bremer Bank building in downtown St. Paul. Check it out.

MPCA rescues 64 pounds of toxic mercury
Preston Winter was cleaning out his late grandfather’s garage in Floodwood, Minn., when he found four plastic jugs of mercury.

Sixty-four pounds of mercury, to be exact. Enough to fill 30,000 thermometers.

His grandfather apparently had stored the jugs 13 years ago, when he was thinking about mining gold. Figuring he might make a few bucks, Winter, 23, posted a photo on Craigslist and offered the batch for $650 — not realizing that mercury is a highly toxic metal subject to tight legal restrictions.

Officials announced that a state hazardous waste specialist, acting on a tip from someone browsing the online site, went to Winter’s home and picked up the mercury after the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) paid $300 for it.
–The Star Tribune

Fracking sand pollutes St. Croix
An undetermined amount of fine sand sediment from a mining operation near Grantsburg, Wis., has seeped through a protective berm into a wetland and creek and then into the federally protected St. Croix River.

The accident, which turned the creek a creamy coffee color, was discovered by a hiker April 22, three days after a new waste settling pond holding the suspended sand was put into use, Burnett County Conservationist Dave Ferris said.

Damage to wildlife, as well as to stream and river ecosystems, hasn’t been determined yet.

The leak has been stopped, but the mine operator, Maple Grove-based Tiller Corp., faces potential penalties for improper discharge of storm water, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Warmer air temps but cooler streams?
If climate change warms the air, it must also be warming steams, right? Not necessarily, some new U.S.

Geological Survey research finds. Read the report on a new analysis of stream temperatures in the western United States. 

UN plans sustainability summit
Next month, the United Nations will hold what is expected to be the largest ever gathering of leaders to discuss sustainable development at a time when inequality is on the rise from the U.S. to China. Around 180 world leaders are expected to meet in Rio de Janeiro to brainstorm the future of environmental policy and poverty reduction in June.

The question conference gatherers will be trying to answer is “If you could build the future, what kind of future would you want?” For some, it’s healthy water and food. For others, it’s a good job that will help them support themselves and their families.

At a time when humanity is now firm into the 21st century, modern man’s early vision of a future of flying cars and ultra-comfort has surely disappointed. Populations the size of India, the U.S. and Brazil combined still live on less than $2 a day. While that is better than it was in the 1990s, the numbers remain a serious roadblock for some of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

The conference, called “Rio+20”, is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It takes place in Rio de Janeiro on June 22 – twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit took place in the same sunny city.
–Forbes

Heavy rains becoming more common
Read a Pioneer Press article about an analysis of rainfall measured between 1961 and 2011 at 218 weather stations in eight Midwestern states, including Minnesota. The analysis concluded that the average annual number of storms with a 3-inch rainfall increased 103 percent, and storms with at least 2 inches of rain increased 81 percent. The study was done by two environmental groups, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley, quoted in the article, questions some of the analysis’ methodology, but says most climate scientists agree there is an upward trend in the frequency of severe storms.

Sealing wells to protect groundwater
As the Twin Cities suburbs rapidly grew, thousands of homeowners unable to access a water system drilled their own wells to tap the aquifers.

Now the state and counties are sealing the unused wells before they can be used to contaminate the groundwater — a huge undertaking because there are so many.

Within the last year, Minnesota passed the 250,000 mark for the number of sealed wells in the state, according to Department of Health statistics. But at least that many unused wells are left, and perhaps as many as 500,000 more, officials say.

It’s easy for people to forget that the innocuous-looking pipe in their yard or basement is actually a well, says Jill Trescott of Dakota County’s Water Resources Office. Even if homeowners know, they may be tempted to use it to toss out things they don’t know what to do with.
–The Star Tribune

Cormorants missing from Lake Waconia
Double-crested cormorants — large, migratory, fish-eating birds that nest in colonies at this time of year — have returned to the same island on Lake Waconia for years.

Not in 2012.

University of Minnesota researcher Linda Wires spotted only two of the protected birds when she flew over Coney Island late last month. That’s down from 470 cormorant nests — each with two birds — in 2010 and 324 nests last year.

“I would have expected at least some to come back,” said Wires, who since 2004 has been monitoring the 32-acre island in Carver County. “It’s very odd.”

Speculation is that sharpshooters hired in past years to legally reduce the bird’s population — long viewed as a nuisance by anglers who say they eat too many fish — worked a little too well: More than 900 cormorants were shot in the past two years.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill residue found in MN pelicans
Pollutants from the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago are showing up in Minnesota birds that migrate to the gulf.

Researchers for the state Department of Natural Resources have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the oil in the eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Scientists urge environmental priorities
National science academies from 15 countries have called on the leading industrialised economies to pay greater heed to science and technology.

The academies include those from the US, China, India and the UK.

The organisations agreed three statements on tackling Earth’s most pressing problems.

According to Dr Michael Clegg of the US National Academy of Sciences: “In the long term, the pressing concerns are managing the environment in a way that assures that future generations have a quality of life that’s at least as equivalent to the quality of life we enjoy today.”
–The BBC

Groundwater drops in Washington State
Twenty-five communities in Eastern Washington’s arid Columbia River basin could have their municipal wells go dry as soon as a decade, according to a study of the underground aquifer that supplies their groundwater.

State officials say the problem is not an immediate crisis but a looming one, and they are working to better educate those communities about the issue. The combined population in the affected areas stretching from Odessa to Pasco is 200,000 people.

“Many of these communities are now learning about the problem,” said Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “We want them to have contingencies in place so that they’re in a position to deal with it.”
–The Seattle Times

Biodiversity, groundwater and crop insurance

May 7, 2012

Research affirms biodiversity’s value 
Vegetation, such as a patch of prairie or a forest stand, is more productive in the long run when more plant species are present, a new University of Minnesota study shows.

The unprecedented long-term study of plant biodiversity found that each species plays a role in maintaining a productive ecosystem, especially when a long time horizon is considered. The study found that every additional species in a plot contributed to a gradual increase in both soil fertility and biomass production over a 14-year period.

The research paper, published in the May 4 edition of the journal Science, highlights the importance of managing for diversity in prairies, forests and crops, according to Peter Reich, a professor in the university’s forest resources department and the study’s lead author.

Reich and his colleagues examined how the effect of diversity on productivity of plants changed over the long term in two large field experiments at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in central Minnesota. These are the longest-running biodiversity experiments in the world, and contain plots with one, four, nine or 16 different species of plants.

“Prior shorter-term studies, most about two years long, found that diversity increased productivity, but that having more than six or eight species in a plot gave no additional benefit,” Reich said. “But we found that over a 14-year time span, all 16 species in our most diverse plots contributed more and more each year to higher soil fertility and biomass production. The take-home message is that when we reduce diversity in the landscape–think of a cornfield or a pine plantation or a suburban lawn–we are failing to capitalize on the valuable natural services that biodiversity provides.”
–University of Minnesota News Release

USGS evaluates nitrates, chloride in groundwater 
There was no change in concentrations of chloride, dissolved solids, or nitrate in groundwater for more than 50 percent of well networks sampled in a new analysis by the USGS that compared samples from 1988-2000 to samples from 2001-2010. For those networks that did have a change, seven times more networks saw increases as opposed to decreases.

Read the full report. Check out a map showing nitrate concentrations in Minnesota groundwater during the two study periods. Check out data on Minnesota chloride levels.

“By providing a nation-wide, long-term, uniformly consistent analysis of trends in groundwater quality, communities can see whether they belong in the group of more than 50 percent which are maintaining their water quality, or within the group of more than 40 percent for which water quality is back sliding,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

High levels of chloride and dissolved solids in water don’t present a risk to human health, but are considered nuisance chemicals that can cause the water to become unusable without treatment because of taste or hardness. Excessive nitrate concentrations in groundwater have the potential to affect its suitability for drinking water. Also, when nitrate-laden water is discharged from groundwater to streams, the nitrate can end up in downstream water bodies, such as the Gulf of Mexico, and cause algal blooms.
–USGS News Release

Crop insurance and conservation in the 2012 Farm Bill
Read a blog about the debate in Congress over proposals to restore a requirement that farmers meet minimum conservation standards to be eligible for subsidized crop insurance coverage. Read a Congressional Research Service report on the issue. Read an op-ed in the Sioux City Journal on the subject. Read a Des Moines Register editorial on it.

Filing beginning for Minnesota SWCDs
Minnesota citizens interested in influencing natural resources issues at the local level are encouraged to run for supervisor of their local Soil and Water Conservation District. SWCD supervisor positions are filled through general elections on Nov. 6.

Individuals who wish to be on the ballot in 2012 must file for the election between May 22 and June 5.

SWCDs are local units of government that manage and direct natural resource management programs at the local level.  Minnesota’s 90 SWCDs cover the entire state and generally follow county lines.  Districts work with landowners in both rural and urban settings to carry out programs for the conservation, use, and development of soil, water, and related resources.

Interested citizens should file a Minnesota Affidavit of Candidacy (available from the county auditor), along with a $20 filing fee.  More information on the filing process can be obtained at the Minnesota Secretary of State web site. Persons interested in finding out what nominating district they live in and which supervisor positions are open for election should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.  Consult a directory of SWCDs and a list of SWCD web sites.
–Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts News Release

2011 drinking water report issued
The Minnesota Department of Health has released its 2011 report on the health and purity of water in public drinking water systems. Check it out.

PolyMet mine debate explored 
It would have been a good-sized congregation on a Sunday morning, but the 250 who gathered at Concordia Lutheran Church on a Wednesday evening weren’t there for a sermon.

They came seeking the word of experts on all sides of the debate about the proposed PolyMet copper mine north of Hoyt Lakes.

Some may have come with their minds firmly made up, one way or the other, about the wisdom of allowing the first-ever copper mine in Minnesota. Others may have come with open minds, eager to hear divergent views and draw their own conclusions.

Whatever, it was an earnest crowd at the event sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of Duluth.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Minnehaha creek report card
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has released its 2011 report card on the health of district lakes.  Water quality in the lakes held steady compared to previous years with most lakes getting grades of A or B.  Read the watershed district’s news release.  Link to a PDF that lists lake-by-lake grades assigned to the water bodies since 2001.

Shift in Wisconsin enforcement philosophy 
Read a Wisconsin State Journal article about a changing philosophy in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on how to bring businesses and developers into compliance with environmental regulations. The department’s number of permit violation notices hit a 12-year low in 2011, the newspaper reported.

EPA gave Wyoming time to dispute fracking report
Wyoming’s governor persuaded the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to postpone an announcement linking hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination, giving state officials — whom the EPA had privately briefed on the study — time to attempt to debunk the finding before it rocked the oil and gas industry more than a month later, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

During the delay, state officials raised dozens of questions about the finding that the controversial procedure that has become essential to unlocking oil and gas deposits in Wyoming and beyond may have tainted groundwater near the gas patch community of Pavillion.
–The Associated Press

CDC to study fracking and health The Institute of Medicine will examine whether the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from rock “poses potential health challenges,” a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said.

Health concerns related to fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to break up rock and free gas, include the potential for water contamination and air pollution, Christopher Portier, director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, said at a workshop in Washington.

Fracking has enabled energy companies to access fuel trapped in previously impenetrable shale rock, reversing a decline in U.S. gas production. Environmentalists have claimed the chemicals used contribute to water contamination and airborne toxins.

“As public health officials, we are committed to ensuring that development happens responsibly,” Portier said in introductory remarks. Portier, who also directs the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said that agency has received complaints from people in communities with gas wells.
–Bloomberg

AIS decal law changed; fines doubled
A slate of new laws designed to curb the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species was approved in a recent bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

A program requiring watercraft owners to place an AIS rules sticker on their boats is being discontinued and replaced with an online education program. Watercraft owners will no longer be required to place on their boats the rectangular, silver and black decals, which include a summary of the state’s AIS laws.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  began distributing the decals earlier this year and will continue to give them to interested boat owners for informational purposes only.

A new law, which goes into effect 2015, will require anyone who transports watercraft or water-related equipment with a trailer to complete an online education course. After completing the course, the person will receive a decal that must be placed on their trailer.
–DNR News Release

U.S. releases 10-year strategic research plan 
The Obama Administration released a 10-year strategic plan for research related to global change, identifying priorities that will help state and local governments, businesses, and communities prepare for anticipated changes in the global environment, including climate change, in the decades ahead.

The plan—released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which for more than 20 years has coordinated Federal global change research— was developed collaboratively by more than 100 Federal scientists. It reflects extensive inputs from stakeholders and the general public, as well as a detailed review by the National Research Council, chartered by Congress to provide independent expert advice to the Nation.
–U.S. Geological Survey News Release

Aasen leaves MPCA post
The state’s chief pollution regulator has left the job after he was nominated for a key position in Minneapolis city government. Paul Aasen, who was Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was nominated by Mayor R.T. Rybak to become city coordinator. Aasen was one of two Dayton-appointed commissioners on a Republican “watch list,” suggesting their confirmation was in question in the Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

‘Last Call’ film documents water crisis 
If you thought only Third World countries have water crises, a new documentary asks you to think again. Increasingly, problems are rising to the surface in the United States.

Filmmaker Jessica Yu harnesses the celebrity power of actor Jack Black and environmental activist Erin Brockovich — immortalized by Julia Roberts in the 2000 movie about Brockovich’s work — to  give the looming U.S. water crisis a thorough ringing out in “Last Call at the Oasis.”
–Reuters

Climate-change skeptics bank on clouds 
For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.

Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.

Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us.

They acknowledge that the human release of greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm. But they assert that clouds — which can either warm or cool the earth, depending on the type and location — will shift in such a way as to counter much of the expected temperature rise and preserve the equable climate on which civilization depends.
–The New York Times

EPA official resigns over ‘crucify’ remark 
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Dallas has resigned over comments he made in 2010 that became the focus of political condemnation last week.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that she accepted a letter of resignation from Al Armendariz.

“I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency,” Jackson said in a written statement. In the letter, Armendariz said he regrets his comments, adding that they did not reflect on his work or the work of the EPA. The controversy eruptedwhen a video surfaced showing Armendariz saying in 2010 that his methods for dealing with non-compliant oil and gas companies were “like when the Romans conquered the villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into little villages in Turkish towns and they’d find the first five guys they saw and crucify them.”
–CNN

 

 

Report cards on Legacy spending

February 14, 2012

Report issued on Clean Water Fund spending
A number of Minnesota state agencies that receive Clean Water Fund appropriations have released a new report tracking how the money was spent in 2010 and 2011.

A news release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which led the inter-agency review, says the report found:

  •  For every state dollar invested in implementation activities such as improvements to municipal sewage plants and buffers to control agricultural runoff, an additional $1.45 was leveraged through local and federal partnerships.
  •  Although the pace of activities to restore polluted lakes and streams is being accelerated by Clean Water Funds, requests for clean-up funds are about three times greater than what is available.
  •  Drinking water protection efforts are on track, but there is a growing concern about nitrate levels in new wells and in certain vulnerable aquifers.

Read the full 48-page report. Read a shorter report-card-type summary. Read a Star Tribune article, based on a Conservation Minnesota analysis of spending from the 2008 Legacy Amendment, that suggests some spending violated a constitutional requirement that Legacy spending supplement, not substitute for, traditional spending. Read a MinnPost account of the same analysis.

Low-level contamination found in groundwater
A new study finds Minnesota groundwater is contaminated with low levels of chemicals, but the chemicals are not as widespread in groundwater as they are in lakes and streams.

This is the first study to examine groundwater across the state for “chemicals of emerging concern.” Researchers tested 40 shallow wells around the state for 92 contaminants. They found 20 different contaminants. One or more chemicals were found in about one-third of the sampled wells.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist Sharon Kroening said the chemicals come from products like plastics, medications, detergents, insect repellents and fire retardants.

“The ones that we found most commonly in this round of sampling was a fire retardant, tris dichloroisopropyl phosphate, an antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, and two plasticizers, one that’s pretty well known called bisphenol A, and another one called tributyl phosphate,” Kroening said.

The most chemicals were found at wells near landfills. Researchers also found a higher incidence of chemicals in wells near residential areas with septic systems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Research: Driveway sealants a big air pollution source
 Coal-tar-based sealants are emitting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air at rates that may be greater than annual emissions from vehicles in the United States, according to new reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in the scientific journals Chemosphere and Atmospheric Environment.

Children living near coal-tar-sealed pavement are exposed to twice as many PAHs from ingestion of contaminated house dust than from food, according to a separate new study by Baylor University and the USGS, published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and many are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. These results and those of previous research on environmental contamination and coal-tar-based pavement sealants are summarized in a feature article appearing today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The article is jointly authored by researchers with the USGS, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, University of New Hampshire, City of Austin Texas, and Baylor University.

Links to the four new articles on this topic can be found on the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat. Coal-tar-based sealant is the black liquid sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds. An estimated 85 million gallons are used each year, primarily in the central and eastern U.S.

Coal tar is known to cause cancer in humans and is made up of more than 50 percent PAHs. “The value of this research is that it identifies the pathways by which PAHs move from pavements to people and measures the contribution in relation to other sources,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The most striking finding is that pavement sealcoat contaminates virtually every part of our every-day surroundings, including our air and our homes.
–USGS News Release

EPA demands more study of PolyMet mine
A long-awaited mining project that promises economic renewal for Minnesota’s Iron Range has been delayed repeatedly in the past year because federal regulators are insisting the company conduct more rigorous research to predict its environmental ramifications on the wildest and most scenic corner of the state.

In the latest delay, PolyMet Mining Corp. said its two-year-old environmental review will not be made public until next fall. That means the copper-nickel mine, first proposed in 2006, would not begin construction until 2014 at the earliest if the project is approved.

The new delay is related to questions the Environmental Protection Agency raised Sept. 1 about the validity of the company’s computer model because it did not include sufficient data from the mine site.

“Any modeling…using this inadequate number of samples would have results that are not scientifically defensible,” the EPA said in a letter to the state and federal officials who are overseeing the environmental review. PolyMet says it has since reached agreement with the EPA on the computer model and is gathering the data the agency requested.
–The Star Tribune

Liquid lake found through 2 miles of ice 
In the coldest spot on the earth’s coldest continent, Russian scientists have reached a freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario after spending a decade drilling through more than two miles of solid ice, the scientists said.

A statement by the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A. M. Yelagin, released by the director of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, said the drill made contact with the lake water at a depth of 12,366 feet.

As planned, lake water under pressure rushed up the bore hole 100 to 130 feet pushing drilling fluid up and away from the pristine water, Mr. Yelagin said, and forming a frozen plug that will prevent contamination. Next Antarctic season, the scientists will return to take samples of the water.

Lake Vostok, named after the Russian research station above it, is the largest of more than 280 lakes under the miles-thick ice that covers most of the Antarctic continent, and the first one to have a drill bit break through to liquid water from the ice that has kept it sealed off from light and air for somewhere between 15 million and 34 million years.
–The New York Times

What would it take? 
Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, offers 15 intriguing short interviews from national and international thought leaders on what it might take for the world’s people to solve some vexing environmental problems.

Some examples:

  • Alexandra Cousteau on creating sustainable ocean fisheries.
  • Climate strategist Robert Socolow on reining in greenhouse gas emissions and solving climate change.
  • Comedian Brian Malow on scientists becoming better communicators.
  • Ecologist Gretchen Daily on protecting nature AND meeting human needs.

Comment sought on Le Sueur biofuels project 
 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is inviting comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s proposed biofuels plant in the city of Le Sueur, which is about 40 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.

The plant, called Hometown BioEnergy, would convert 45,000 tons a year of agricultural and food-processing waste, such as corn silage, into three products: methane biogas that would be burned to create electricity; liquid fertilizer that would be applied to nearby cropland; and a residual solid material that would be converted into burnable pellets.

The plant would generate eight megawatts of electricity and deliver it directly to the city of Le Sueur, population 4,000. The plant’s total building area would be 25,500 square feet on a site 35 acres in size. The site is a depleted gravel pit on the south side of Le Sueur surrounded by cropland, an airport, and an operating gravel mine.

On March 20, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., the MPCA will also host a public informational meeting on the permit for the project at the Park Elementary School auditorium in Le Sueur.

Comments on the permit will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on March 27. The MPCA web site  has a copy of the Hometown BioEnergy EAW.
–MPCA News Release

Media miss UN report on sustainability
As the world’s media focused on the deepening crisis over Syria, it missed a less pressing story with profound long-term implications. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released a sobering assessment for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. The document — Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing — offers humanity a stark choice: modify our patterns of production and consumption, or risk crashing through the “planetary boundaries” of growth and social progress.

It’s easy to mock UN reports, particularly from “high-level” panels. (Does the UN have any other kind?) But this document is an eye-opener—and offers some crucial recommendations for the Rio+20 mega conference in June.

First, it highlights just how far the world is from realizing the vision of “sustainable development.” That paradigm, introduced by the Bruntland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, is deceptively simple. Sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection,” as Resilient People underlines. It’s about ensuring that today’s actions, particularly in the economic sphere, advance growth and social welfare but don’t undermine critical ecosystem services.
–The Internationalist, a blog from the Council on Foreign Relations

Texas acts to protect Ogallala aquifer 
A group of farmers in northwest Texas began 2012 under circumstances their forbearers could scarcely imagine: they faced a limit on the amount of groundwater they could pump from their own wells on their own property.

The new rule issued by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, based in Lubbock, declares that water pumped in excess of the “allowable production rate” is illegal.

In Texas, a bastion of the free-market Tea Party, such a rule is hard to fathom. Most of the state abides by the “rule of capture,” which basically allows farmers to pump as much water as they want from beneath their own land. But irrigators in northwest Texas rely on the Ogallala aquifer, an underground water reserve that is all-too-rapidly disappearing. If the region is to have any future at all, water users must find a way to curb the pumping.

The Ogallala is one of the nation’s largest and most productive underground water sources. It makes up more than three-quarters of the High Plains aquifer, which spans 175,000 square miles and underlies parts of eight U.S. states — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water drawn from it irrigates 15.4 million acres of cropland, 27 percent of the nation’s total irrigated area.
–The National Geographic

Draft ‘fracking’ rule requires disclosure 
Natural gas drillers would be required to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public lands, according to draft rules created by the Department of Interior.

The proposed regulations would also force companies to report the amount of any given chemical injected during the fracking process. The move for increased regulation comes after President Barack Obama touted his commitment to expanding natural gas production while ensuring the drilling is done responsibly.

“My administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” he said during his State of the Union address.

Fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of undisclosed chemicals into rocks containing oil or natural gas, has drawn increasing scrutiny from environmentalists who suggest the process contaminates groundwater and destroys ecosystems. Under the proposed regulations, companies would be required to reveal the “complete chemical makeup of all materials used,” according to a copy of the rules obtained by The Huffington Post.
–The Huffington Post

Canon River speaker series set
Looking for something to do to liven up your Monday nights this February?  The Cannon River Watershet Partnership CRWP and St. Olaf College invite you to take part in a speaker series on the topic of Alternative Agriculture.  How has agriculture changed in the last 50 years? How can we take advantage of the marginal lands?  What “third crops” are out there that could enhance the typical corn/soybean rotation?  How can farmers earn a living while protecting our waters?  Each speaker will discuss his or her  work, then take questions from the audience.  The event is FREE and open to the public.

Location:  St. Olaf College, Regents Hall, Room 150, Northfield, MN. Time:  7 to 8:30 p.m.

Speakers include:

Feb. 20 – Linda Meschke – President of Rural Advantage. She will review the idea of “third crops” and the concept of alternative income beyond corn and soybeans.

Feb. 27 –  Paula Westmoreland – President of Ecological Gardens and author of the book This Perennial Land.  She will discuss her book and GIS maps about farming the margins.

Ohio withdraws tougher stream rules
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency withdrew proposed regulations meant to strengthen protections for streams after business groups complained that they might cost too much.

The package of regulations included a system to grade the ecological value of thousands of small, mostly unnamed “headwater” streams in Ohio. Conservationists say those streams frequently are filled in or polluted by strip mines, roads and housing subdivisions.

Under the new system, the higher the value of a stream, the more work a developer would have had to do to avoid or repair damage. First proposed in 2006, these standards and other enhanced protections of streams and wetlands never got past the proposal stage. They were instead mired in opposition from business, manufacturing and homebuilder groups.
–The Columbus Dispatch

Grand Canyon park bans plastic bottles
In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers. The ban on less-than-one-gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park’s “waste stream” and 30 percent of its recyclables.

The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff. Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011.
–National Parks Traveler

$37 million available for Mississippi Basin projects
  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced that proposals for conservation projects addressing water quality and wetland conservation in the Mississippi River Basin are due to NRCS by March 19, 2012.

Accepted projects would support conservation efforts already underway on agricultural operations in the basin, improve the overall health of the Mississippi River and help reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for conservation-minded farmers to do even more to protect and improve one of America’s most valuable resources,” White said.

Through this request for proposals, NRCS is providing up to $37 million in new financial assistance through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) for projects in 54 priority watersheds in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
–USDA News Release

Dates not to miss, pythons and butterflies

February 6, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

DNR proposes boat trailer permitting 
Minnesota’s 800,000 boat owners would have to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re envisioning it would be an online training course,” said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species specialist. “This would be required training so boaters know the laws and what they need to do to prevent the spread of invasive species.”

Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have the pass the course. Also, fines for those caught violating invasive species laws would be doubled — all part of increased efforts by the DNR to slow the spread of invading critters to Minnesota’s waters.

Some measures will be implemented this season, including random roadside boat checks and a requirement that boat owners place free DNR stickers on their boats spelling out invasive species requirements. But the training requirement proposal wouldn’t kick in until 2015, under the proposed bill.
–The Star Tribune

Important events in March
Put these three important dates on your calendar:

  • March 1. Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to persuade and pressure multinational companies to adopt sustainable business practices, will give a free public lecture. The lecture is titled “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship into the Bottom Line.” Learn more and register to reserve your place at the lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • March 17. The Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor Watershed Solutions Summit 2012, at Normandale Community College. Learn more.
  • March 29. Precision Conservation is the science and art of putting conservation practices at the places on the landscape where they will do the most good. The Freshwater Society, with the assistance of a number of partners, will sponsor a conference aimed at Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, Watershed District managers, county commissioners and others who care deeply about protecting water quality. Dave White, the national chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will deliver the keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.
Darby Nelson book a finalist for award

Darby Nelson

Darby Nelson

For Love of Lakes, a new book by Darby Nelson, is a finalist in this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. Nelson, a member of the Freshwater Society Board of Directors, is a longtime conservationist, a retired environmental science professor and a former Minnesota legislator. His book, a collection of first-person essays about lakes in Minnesota and across the United States, was published by the Michigan State University Press. It is one of four finalists in the memoir and creative nonfiction category. The winners will be announced April 14. Learn more about For Love of Lakes and read its introduction. Learn more about the Book Awards and vote on-line in the People’s Choice category.

Mercury rules an issue in taconite plant dispute 
Iron Range officials expressed frustration with Magnetation Inc. over the company’s threats to build an iron ore pelletizing plant in another state. But company officials say it’s Minnesota’s tough pollution rules that are forcing them to look elsewhere.

State Rep. Tom Rukavina and St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson say they are upset that the company is considering building the $300 million plant somewhere other than the Iron Range, especially after Minnesota invested heavily in helping Magnetation get started.

Magnetation is considering sites in Superior, Indiana and Illinois in addition to Itasca County for the plant that will employ about 150 people.

“To me, it’s embarrassing that a guy who got $1 million of free taxpayer money from Minnesota would even consider going to another state,’’ Rukavina said, referring to a $1 million grant Magnetation’s CEO Larry Lehtinen received in 2008 from the Minnesota Minerals 21st Century Fund administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
-The Duluth News Tribune.

GOP seeks environmental permitting changes 
Republicans in the state Legislature are advancing a new set of initiatives to overhaul environmental regulation.

The measures come after they reached accord last year with Gov. Mark Dayton on a sweeping bill that streamlined the environmental permitting process. That bill was a noteworthy but ultimately fleeting act of bipartisanship. Now, backed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and opposed by environmental organizations, a second round of permitting legislation passed in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote.

The bill picks up where the 2011 legislation left off. Last year’s legislation allowed businesses to submit their own environmental reviews of projects for consideration by state regulators. This year’s bill, sponsored by Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, proposes to allow companies to hire an outside consultant to prepare environmental permits. The applications would ultimately be approved or rejected by the state Pollution Control Agency.
–Politics in Minnesota

China arrests 8 in massive pollutant spill
China has detained another company official, bringing the total to eight, over a massive river pollution case in the country’s south, the government and state media said. Industrial waste — including toxic cadmium — polluted up to a 300-kilometre (190-mile) section of the Longjiang River in the Guangxi region and threatened drinking water supplies for millions of people.

Police have detained eight executives from two firms, Jinhe Mining Co. and Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Materials Factory, according to a statement from Hechi city, where the pollution originated. Authorities were seeking another four people who had fled, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted Hechi Mayor He Xinxing as saying.
–AFP

Pythons swallowing up Everglades mammals
Precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Burmese python caught in 2009

15-foot, 162-pound Burmese python. Photo, Mike Rochford, University of Fla.

The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.

Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected. The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest. In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.

“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
–USGS News Release

‘Loophole’ might shield Sherco emissions
Environmental groups called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close a “loophole” in new air pollution rules that would let the oldest coal-fired units at Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant forgo expensive retrofitting.

Sherco, located in Becker, 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, is the state’s largest power plant, capable of producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1.8 million households. But the plant burns 30,000 tons of coal a day, and the environmental groups say its emissions are the main contributor to the haze that hangs over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other natural areas.

Estimates for the cost of retrofitting the Sherco plant range from less than $50 million to several hundred million dollars.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Health Department sets forum on drinking water 
The Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program will hold a public forum on drinking water and the department’s effort to explore potential contaminants.

The forum will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the department’s Snelling Office Park,  1645 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul.

The Forum is open to anyone concerned about protecting the state’s water resources from contaminants. It is an opportunity to share information related to contaminants of emerging concern and to learn more about CEC program activities.

If you have questions or would like to participate via the Web, contact Michele Ross at michele.ross@state.mn.us or 651-201-4927. Learn more about Advisory Forum . Read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Pamela Shubat, who directs the Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.

Karner blue butterfly
Photo: Phil Delphey, USFWS

Rare butterfly an issue for Wisconsin sand mines
In the sand barrens of Wisconsin lives an endangered blue butterfly. Its range overlaps almost perfectly with the sand that’s become a lucrative part of a boom in natural gas drilling. And to kill a Karner blue without a permit violates federal law. But of the dozens of frac sand companies that have descended upon the area, just one, Unimin, has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources to be able to legally destroy Karner blues in its operations, according to David Lentz, who coordinates the agency’s Karner blue butterfly habitat conservation plan. And only four companies have contacted the agency’s Bureau of Endangered Resources directly.
–The Fond du Lac Reporter

Elephants in Australia?
 Australia could introduce large herbivores such as elephants as part of a radical biological solution to the problem of bushfires and invasive species, says one expert.

The argument is laid out in a provocative commentary from Dr David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, and is published in Nature magazine.

“I’m being as provocative as possible to try and wake everybody up to say, ‘Look, what is currently happening is not sustainable. We have to think outside the square,'” Dr Bowman said.

He says the short-term programs designed to address Australia’s serious problems with bushfires and invasive species are piecemeal, costly and ineffective.

For example, he says, they are not succeeding in controlling the invasive gamba grass that leads to frequent intense fires in Australia’s north.

“It’s out of control,” he said. “Last year we had a fire in the outback in Central Australia the size of Tasmania. These things are very bad.”
–Asia Pacific News

 

Precision conservation; water re-use

January 30, 2012

Precision Conservation conference set March 29

NRCS chief Dave White
Dave White

Precision conservation effectively and efficiently targets scarce resources to the spots on the landscape where they will do the most good. Learn about the latest technology — much of it

based on LiDAR scanning – that pinpoints “sweet spots” where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a day-long conference: “Precision Conservation: Technology Redefining Local Water Quality Practices.”

The keynote address will be delivered by Dave White, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Dr. David Mulla, a University of Soil Scientist and a pioneer in employing modern LiDAR-based technology in the service of conservation, will describe current and emerging strategies.

The conference will focus both on technology — much of it derived from vastly improved terrain mapping developed from Light Detection and Ranging laser scanning — and the decision-making process by which policy-makers choose where to employ their time, energy and scarce financial resources.

Who should attend? Watershed District managers, Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, county commissioners, water planners and policy-makers.

Report explores water re-use
Each day, American municipalities discharge treated wastewater back into natural sources at a rate that would fill an empty Lake Champlain within six months.

Growing pressure on water supplies and calls for updating the ancient subterranean piping infrastructure have brought new scrutiny to this step in the treatment process, which is labeled wasteful and unnecessary by a spectrum of voices.

“As the world enters the 21st century, the human community finds itself searching for new  paradigms for water supply and management,” says a report releasedby the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report investigates the potential for establishing a more resilient national water supply through the direct recycling of municipal wastewater.

“Law and practice have always been that water goes back into a river or into groundwater or the ocean before it returns for further treatment,” said Brent Haddad, founder and director of the  Center for Integrated Water Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of  the committee that wrote the report. The critical question, he said, is “whether that natural stage of treatment is actually an efficient stage of treatment.”
–The New York Times

Don’t forget: Mindy Lubber to lecture March 1 
Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers. Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.

As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets. In 2011, she was voted one of “the 100 most influential people in corporate governance” by Directorship Magazine.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Minnesota joins effort to protect L. Winnipeg
Minnesota, North Dakota and Manitoba are planning to work together to fix an expanding dead zone in Lake Winnipeg.

The lake is a major fishery in Manitoba, but it’s health is declining because of nutrients like phosphorus flowing in through the Red River. The nutrients cause large algae blooms.

The problem has been building for decades, said Lance Yohe, Red River Basin Commission executive director.

“The new research is indicating we’re getting closer and closer to a tipping point where the lake would start to deteriorate rather fast,” he said. “If we solve the problem and make progress, this is the best tool to do that.” The Red River drains a large area, and the first step is to identify where nutrients are coming from, Yohe said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Carver County joining zebra mussel fight
Beginning May 15, all boats entering Lake Minnewashta in Carver County will be inspected for zebra mussels in the most ambitious effort yet in the state to prevent the invasive pests from infesting a lake.

It marks the first time that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has authorized a local government to take over such a program, with authority to require inspections and deny boat launching if necessary.

County commissioners voted 3-2to pay half of the $31,000 cost for daily inspections. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District will pay the rest.

The partnership could become a model for other lakes in the southwest metro county, as well as those in other counties. It comes at a time when some lakeshore owners and others are desperately trying to devise local efforts to stop zebra mussels, which have infested about two dozen lakes in the state, including heavily trafficked Lake Minnetonka in 2010.
–The Star Tribune

Tons of Asian carp seized in Canada
Almost 6.3 tonnes of Asian carp, an invasive species no one wants in the Great Lakes, has been seized at the Windsor-Detroit border in the last three weeks. That’s alarming, University of Windsor professor and aquatic invasive species expert Hugh MacIsaac said.

“The Americans have put $78 million into trying to detect where the fish are and to make sure they don’t get into the Great Lakes at Chicago,” said MacIsaac. “And here on the other hand we still have people shipping these things around as though it’s legal and advisable, and it’s neither.”

Since 2005, it’s been illegal to possess live Asian carp in Ontario. Over fives tonnes of Asian carp, some of them alive, was seized on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. That came about two weeks after nearly 1.2 tonnes of live Asian carp was seized at the border Jan. 9, Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski said.
–Postmedia News

MPCA seeks comment on Anoka County lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Peltier Lake, Centerville Lake, and the lakes in the Lino Lakes chain (George Watch, Marshan, Reshanau, Rice and Baldwin lakes) in Anoka County.

The MPCA has identified these lakes as impaired because of their high levels of phosphorus. Lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to algal overgrowth, which interferes with swimming, fishing and recreation.

The MPCA, in partnership with the Rice Creek Watershed District, has determined that the phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake must be reduced by up to 85 percent to meet state water quality standards. For this chain of lakes, much of the phosphorus load comes from internal sources, such as rough fish (carp) and decaying vegetation. Therefore, the studies recommend managing populations of fish and aquatic plants in the lakes to control the internal phosphorus load.

Local initiatives to improve the management of stormwater will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into Peltier Lake. Focus on this upstream lake will be critical for success in restoring the downstream lakes. Part of the study included an evaluation of historic phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake.

The MPCA has proposed assessing Peltier Lake in comparison to its natural background level of phosphorus, rather than using the more stringent state water quality standard. George Watch, Marshan, Rice and Baldwin lakes, since they are downstream of Peltier, would also use the natural background condition as their standard.

The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load report, or TMDL, may be viewed on line. For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak (email chris.zakak@state.mn.us ; phone 651-757-2837), MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194.
–MPCA News Release

DNR begins moose count 
Recent snowfall in northeastern Minnesota has allowed for the start of the 2012 aerial moose survey, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The annual survey, which has been conducted every year since 1960, provides critical data needed to determine the size of the moose population and to set the number of moose hunting permits.

Observers from the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, the 1854 Treaty Authority, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered in Ely to begin the survey, which is expected to last two to three weeks, depending on the weather.

Forty-nine survey plots randomly scattered across the survey area will be flown. This includes the addition of nine specially selected “habitat” plots that will be studied to determine how moose respond to recent wildfires, prescribed burns and timber management.
–DNR News Release

Research: PFCs impact immune systems 
Children exposed to the same common household chemicals that have contaminated groundwater near a number of 3M Co. sites in the St. Paul suburbs have weakened immune systems that make them more vulnerable to infections, according to research.

The study is the first to confirm the suspected link between immune function and PFCs, a family of compounds used in everything from Teflon pans to microwave popcorn bags.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it’s the latest in a growing number of scientific studies raising questions about the health implications of the compounds, which have become ubiquitous in the environment, animals and people.

The chemicals are of particular concern in the east metro area, where groundwater and drinking water were contaminated after 3M made and used the compounds for decades at its Cottage Grove plant to make products like Scotchgard, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. 3M stopped using the chemicals in 2002.

But many people who live nearby have elevated levels of the compounds in their blood — significantly higher than do the Scottish children who were studied in the research published by JAMA. That means their immune systems could be even more affected, Minnesota health officials said.
–The Star Tribune

Garden chart recognizes warmer winters
It’s still too cold for Japanese maples and flowering dogwoods, but warmer winters have shifted the Twin Cities into a new plant-hardiness zone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The Twin Cities used to be Zone 4A, which meant winter temperatures plunged as low as 30 degrees below zero. Now the USDA places the Twin Cities in Zone 4B, which means winter temperatures drop as low as minus 25 degrees.

The move to a slightly balmier zone comes after the USDA recalculated its map with newer weather data for the first time since 1990. Two decades of gradually warmer winters have shifted most of Minnesota – and much of the United States – one notch higher on the USDA’s plant-hardiness charts.

The zones depict the lowest winter temperatures for each region and are used to advise gardeners which plants are safe to buy. “The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

January 3, 2012

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Sediment, Asian carp and a Legacy forum

December 19, 2011

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.  

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Cities want ag to share pollution costs
Already hamstrung by tight budgets, communities across much of Minnesota are bracing for what could be an $843 million bill – this one aimed at reducing the amount of sediment reaching Lake Pepin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

And many resent having to pay so much for what amounts to a relatively small bump in water quality. Especially while agriculture, a much larger source of sediment, is let off the hook.

“This kind of thing is just beyond the pale for what is acceptable and what we feel is how we should be spending our taxpayers’ money,” said Klayton Eckles, Woodbury’s city engineer.

The developing urban-rural tiff will get new legs soon when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency releases a study explaining the sediment problem, establishing goals and outlining ways to reduce the amount of silt getting into Lake Pepin, the widening of the Mississippi River southeast of the Twin Cities.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lock closing sought as carp deterrent 
A coalition of conservation groups says it is not too late to stop Asian carp in the Mississippi River.

That runs counter to the recent discovery of genetic material from the fish above a pair of dams that might have served as barriers.

“The eDNA testing, it indicates that there are some fish in place. But in terms of a breeding population, that is not likely to be the case. It could be the case,” said Irene Jones of Friends of the Mississippi River. “But usually you find them in much larger numbers when they start to breed. There is something called an invasion front, which is where the breeding population has reached. Right now the invasion front, it’s in Iowa.”

Friends of the Mississippi River joins with the Izaak Walton League, the Minnesota Seasonal Recreation Property Owners and the Minnesota Conservation Federation in calling for locks in St. Paul and Minneapolis to close. The coalition wants the two Mississippi River locks to stay closed until a plan is in place to stop the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Legacy Amendment forum set Jan. 5
 Fourteen environmental groups will sponsor a Thursday, Jan. 5, forum on the 2008 Legacy Amendment that raised the sales tax to protect, enhance and restore water and the environment in Minnesota.

The Legacy Stakeholder’s Forum, an annual event, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul. It will include presentations and panel discussions involving legislators, policy-makers and members of the Clean Water Council and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The forum will attempt “follow the money” and evaluate what the public is getting for its money.

Participation is free,  but space is limited. To register, send an email to Noreen Tyler  at the Izaak Walton League.

Sponsors include: Anglers for Habitat, Audubon Minnesota, the Conservation Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Parks & Trail Council of Minnesota, Pheasants Forever, Sportsmen for Change and the Trust for Public Land.

Peter Gleick offers water policy guides
Pacific Institute President Dr. Peter Gleick presented a set of recommendations to Congress for a more effective and sustainable 21st-century national water policy.

Dr. Gleick, one of the world’s leading experts on freshwater issues, testified before the Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that coordinated federal planning for water is needed in the face of new water challenges such as climate change, unregulated or inadequately regulated pollutants, and decaying physical water infrastructure.

“Growing human populations and demands for water, unacceptable water quality in many areas, weak or inadequate water data collection and regulation, and growing threats to the timing and reliability of water supply from climate change call for fundamental changes in federal policy,” said Dr. Gleick. “The water crisis around the nation and around the world is growing, presenting new direct threats to our economy and environment – but it also offers opportunities for better and coordinated responses.” His full testimony is available on the Pacific Institute website.
–Western Farm Press

Facebook, Greenpeace reach truce on coal
Facebook and Greenpeace have called a truce over a clean energy feud that had the environmental group using the social network’s own platform to campaign against it.

Greenpeace and Facebook said that they will work together to encourage the use of renewable energy instead of coal.

Last year, Facebook opened a data center in Prineville, Ore., using the area’s cool nights and dry air to save energy while keeping its systems from overheating. It also received generous tax breaks for adding jobs to the economically struggling region.

But Greenpeace wasn’t happy that Facebook picked site for its data center that’s served by a power company that generates most of its electricity from coal. It started a campaign to get the social network operator to use renewable energy. It attracted some 700,000 supporters on Facebook. Greenpeace said it was ending the campaign and declared victory on its “Unfriend Coal” Facebook page.
–The Associated Press

DNR offers habitat-improvement grants
Organizations and governments now can apply for fish and wildlife habitat improvement grants.   The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting Conservation Partners Legacy grant applications for projects ranging from $5,000 to $400,000.

Funds must be used to enhance, restore, or protect the forests, wetlands, prairies, and habitat for fish, game, or wildlife in Minnesota. A total of $3.48 million of funding is available.

Application deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 at 5p.m.  The request for proposals is available on the CPL grants web page.

Awards for this second round of grants are expected to be announced in early April. Grant funds are provided annually from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is a portion of the revenue generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment sales tax.
–DNR News Release

Canada withdrawing from Kyoto Protocol
Canada said that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Under that accord, major industrialized nations agreed to meet targets for reducing emissions, but mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa. The United States never ratified the treaty. Canada did commit to the treaty, but the agreement has been fraying.

Participants at a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, renewed it but could not agree on a new accord to replace it.

Instead, the 200 nations represented at the conference agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty, but without resolving a core issue: whether its requirements will apply equally to all countries.

The decision by Canada’s Conservative Party government had long been expected. A Liberal Party government negotiated Canada’s entry into the agreement, but the Conservative government has never disguised its disdain for the treaty.
–The New York Times

Comment sought on hog feedlot 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites comments on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) prepared for Matt Holland’s proposed swine facility expansion in southwestern Steele County.

Written comments must be received by the MPCA by 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2012.

Holland proposes to double his swine operation from 2,400 to 4,800 finishing hogs. He also maintains a beef herd of 20 cow-calf pairs on pasture. For the expansion, Holland plans to build a total confinement barn with a manure pit underneath.

The feedlot is located in Berlin Township, 1.26 miles west of Ellendale. After expansion, the feedlot would generate 1.9 million gallons of liquid manure a year. Holland plans to remove manure from the pits beneath the barns once a year in the fall for application to nearby cropland. The feedlot would have two manure-storage basins with a total storage capacity of 2.5 million gallons, reducing the likelihood of overflow or emergency applications during the winter.

Although the feedlot is surrounded by land zoned for agriculture, 41 homes are located within one mile of the feedlot and manure-application sites. The closest home is about one-third mile from the feedlot. Based on a computer modeling study, the MPCA expects the expanded feedlot to comply with state air-quality standards, with odors below levels usually considered unpleasant.

Copies of the EAW are available on the MPCA web site. Send questions and comments on the Holland EAW to Charles Peterson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, or  Charles.peterson@state.mn.us MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release.

Speed-up set in Chicago sewage overflow plan
Nearly four decades after officials broke ground on the Deep Tunnel, federal and state authorities unveiled a legal settlement intended to finally complete the Chicago area’s massive flood- and pollution-control project.

Relief from swamped basements and sewage overflows into local streams still is years away, though.

Most of the settlement adds legal teeth to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s latest construction schedule for the Deep Tunnel, which has been repeatedly delayed by funding woes and engineering hurdles. The deal brokered by the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection agencies and U.S. Department of Justice imposes deadlines to finish sections, but the entire system won’t be completed until 2029.
–The Chicago Tribune

Bird Conservancy seeks windmill rules
American Bird Conservancy, the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect millions of birds from the negative impacts of wind energy by developing regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development.

The nearly 100-page petition for rulemaking, prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to  issue regulations establishing a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds.

The proposal would provide industry with legal certainty that wind developers in compliance with a permit would not be subject to criminal or civil penalties for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The government estimates that a minimum of 440,000 birds are currently killed each year by collisions with wind turbines.

The petition is available online.
–American Bird Conservancy news release

Bill coming due for water infrastructure
The overdue bill for water systems is reaching alarming size, with economic consequences that will weigh on U.S. businesses for years to come. An economic analysis on unmet public water and wastewater system needs commissioned by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) paints a grim future for the U.S. economy.

The costs associated with unreliable delivery and inadequate treatment, the analysis shows, will combine to cut the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as $416 billion over the next decade if current spending levels remain unchanged.

Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure is the second of four ASCE-commissioned assessments of infrastructure spending. The analysis examines the economic consequences of aging drinking water, wastewater and wet weather management systems on businesses and households based on existing capital spending trends.

Lacking any new investment in this infrastructure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 estimate of a $55 billion shortfall in maintenance and upgrade needs could balloon to $84 billion by 2020, and nearly double to $144 billion by 2040.
–Engineering News-Record