Posts Tagged ‘3M’

The Gulf spill; 3M chemicals; ‘moist soil’

August 23, 2010

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

Scientists challenge Gulf oil assessment
Academic scientists are challenging the Obama administration’s assertion that most of BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico is either gone or rapidly disappearing — with one group announcing the discovery of a 22-mile “plume” of oil that shows little sign of vanishing.

That plume was measured in late June and was described by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The biggest news was not the plume itself: For weeks, government and university scientists have said that oil from BP’s damaged well is still underwater.

 The news was what is happening — or not happening — to it.

The scientists said that when they studied it, they saw little evidence that the oil was being rapidly consumed by the gulf’s petroleum-eating microbes. The plume was in a deep, cold region where microbes tend to work slowly.
–The Washington Post

State seeks 3M pollution compensation
The 3M Co. should pay for environmental harm done by its chemicals, according to state officials.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that it is negotiating with 3M over compensation for damage done by perfluorochemicals that leaked into Washington County groundwater.

 The state attorney general’s office, acting as the agency’s lawyer, confirmed it is interviewing city officials in Washington County to gauge the public cost of the chemical leaks.

 Agency officials said they hope to have an agreement with 3M by the end of the year.

Usually, Mother Nature doesn’t have a way to strike back at polluters. Animals have no claim in most courts — no one can sue a polluter on behalf of wildlife injured by a chemical or oil spill.

But in a process called Natural Resources Damage Assessment, spelled out in the federal Superfund law, state agencies can ask polluters for repayment.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Funding denied for temporary wetlands
A new strategy to create waterfowl habitat in Minnesota was dealt a blow when the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council rejected funding for the project.

 The Department of Natural Resources was seeking $443,500 to design and implement moist-soil management units. The new strategy to improve the state’s sagging waterfowl populations was announced in January by DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten.

 The project involves intensively managing shallow impoundments. The impoundments are drained in the summer to allow the growth of plants and then flooded in the fall so ducks can forage on the plants’ seeds and insects.

 The impoundments mimic Minnesota’s most commonly drained natural wetlands, known as seasonal or “temporal” wetlands. Moist-soil units have been used widely and successfully in other states to attract and provide food for waterfowl.

“It looks like an expensive Band-Aid; that’s how most (council members) looked at it,” said Jim Cox, a council member and former president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Septic pollution threatens Cape Cod ponds
Rising nitrogen levels are suffocating the vegetation and marine life in saltwater ponds and estuaries on Cape Cod, creating an environmental and infrastructure problem that, if left unchecked, will threaten the shellfishing industry, the tourist economy and the beaches that lure so many summer visitors. 

More than 60 ponds and estuaries on the cape and a few elsewhere in the region have been choked by algae and seaweed. The culprit is nitrogen, much of it leaching out of septic system wastewater that runs through sandy soil into the estuaries. Faced with a federal mandate to fix their polluted waterways, Cape Cod towns have spent years creating plans to clean up the wastewater, largely through sewers and clustered septic systems.

 So far, most of the efforts have been to no avail, stifled by disputes over science and over who should pay for such a sprawling and expensive public works project.
–The New York Times

Renewable energy featured at State Fair
Electricity from the sun and wind will be on display at the largest renewable energy exhibit ever held at the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair. 

Fairgoers will find out how solar energy and wind power can work for them in their daily lives. The exhibit, which includes displays inside and outside of the Eco Experience building, will feature solar-powered fans and water fountains, portable solar panels, solar-powered boats and a wind turbine sized for farm or business use. 

Many of the solar energy innovations on display at the Eco Experience are made in Minnesota. A new mirror film from 3M that concentrates sunlight on solar panels will be on display. The film helps capture more of the sun’s radiation, leading to lower solar energy costs. Silicon-Energy will display solar panels that will be manufactured on the Iron Range starting in spring 2011. Fairgoers can get a sneak peak of these panels in front of the Eco Experience building and along the Green Street display inside the building. 

Fairgoers can also see solar-powered boats built by junior high, high school and college students for the annual Solar Boat Regatta sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

 Canada to declare bisphenol A is toxic 
After a lengthy delay, the federal government said it is close to making good on its two-year old promise to designate bisphenol A as toxic under Canadian law.

The Conservatives made a big splash in April 2008 when two senior cabinet ministers hosted a news conference to announce Canada would become the first country in the world to ban plastic bottles after concluding the estrogen-mimicking chemical was toxic. The first step was to place BPA on the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. 

The ban went ahead, but the toxic designation has yet to happen. Environment Canada now says it will be a done deal within eight to 10 weeks — more than a year after considering a formal notice of objection filed by the American Chemistry Council. 

The group, which maintains BPA is safe, filed the objection on July 15, 2009, asking the government to set up a board of review to reconsider the toxic designation.
–The Vancouver Sun

 Cruise ships dump wastes off Canada
Waters off British Columbia are the “toilet bowl of North America” as dozens of cruise ships heading to and from Alaska dump sewage in Canadian waters, environmentalists say.

 American regulations have been tightened in the last decade forcing cruise ships to follow stringent sewage treatment rules before disposing of waste in Alaska or Washington State.

 But the vessels have another option: they can unload sewage and grey water —waste water from showers, sinks and laundry — into B.C. waters where rules are “lax.”

 “Cruise ship companies are taking advantage of Canada’s weaker laws on sewage discharge to save money. It is bizarre that B.C. residents should bear the burden of cruise ship pollution from well-heeled tourists,” said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive chief executive officer of the Friends of the Earth (FOE) Canada.
–The Vancouver Sun

Cost of Michigan oil spill mounts
Enbridge Inc.’s struggles mounted as its U.S. affiliate said the oil spill that fouled a Michigan river system could cost as much as $400 million and regulators slapped it with a $2.4 million fine for a deadly 2007 explosion in Minnesota.

 Enbridge Energy Partners, the Houston-based operator of the U.S. part of the company’s massive pipeline system, said total charges for the July 26 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Mich., could be $300 million to $400 million, excluding any fines or penalties. 

The cost would include charges for emergency response, environmental remediation, pipeline repairs, claims by third parties and lost revenue, Enbridge said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

After insurance recoveries, the charges could be $35 million to $45 million, said Enbridge, whose ruptured pipeline spilled 19,500 barrels of heavy Canadian crude into the Kalamazoo River system.
–Reuters 

$12 million available for water projects
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is seeking grant applications from local government units for projects that will protect and restore Minnesota’s streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Eligible local government units include cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, and metropolitan watershed management organizations. The deadline to apply is Sept. 15. 

BWSR has $12 million available for these projects. Funding for the competitive grants is provided by the Clean Water Fund (from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment). Most of the funded projects also will leverage local or federal dollars.   

“Local conservation professionals throughout the state have experience in identifying areas that are contributing to water quality issues and implementing solutions,” said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director. “Minnesotans who are interested in learning more about how they can help protect and restore water quality should contact a local conservation agency in their area.” 

Jaschke added that BWSR reviews and approves water management plans for the local government units that are eligible for these grants. In order to receive funding, projects must implement priority activities that are identified in a state approved and locally adopted local water management plan. 
–BWSR News Release

Wisconsin adopts sweeping phosphorus rules

June 28, 2010

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

Wisconsin DNR adopts phosphorus rules
The Natural Resources Board approved sweeping and costly new regulations to limit phosphorus in state waterways that could top $1 billion.

The goal is cleaner water, fewer algae blooms and a better habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Phosphorus pollution from runoff is one of the contributing factors to the foul-smelling algae on Lake Michigan’s beaches. 

The measure was championed by the DNR and environmentalists, but the state hasn’t identified a way to finance a cost-sharing program, and business groups said the burden will fall unfairly on them. 

The regulations take a two-pronged approach by setting water quality standards for phosphorus and by putting new limits on municipal wastewater treatment plants and factories that have their own treatment systems. 

In turn, the water quality standards drive a complex series of regulations aimed at controlling phosphorus and other nutrients washed from farm fields, construction sites and urban streets.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Minnesota may seek pollution damages from 3M
3M Company may be liable for damage to natural resources because of chemicals that contaminated Mississippi River fish and tainted groundwater beneath much of the east metro area. State officials have met with 3M several times during the past few weeks, and said they hope to resolve the problems through negotiations rather than litigation. 

3M phased out the compounds in 2002 after making them for nearly half a century at its Cottage Grove plant. They were used in numerous products including Scotchgard, non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. The company dumped wastes in area landfills and at the plant decades ago, before those practices were illegal. The chemicals spread to contaminate nearby ground and river water. 

“For the past three years we’ve been focused on cleanup, on getting that moving forward,” said Kathy Sather, director of remediation for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “The time is right now for us to look at the natural resource damage that’s always part of the remediation that we do.”

Sather would not speculate on how much the damages might be.
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp caught close to Lake Michigan
A commercial fisherman patrolling the calm waters of Lake Calumet netted a 19-pound Asian carp, the first physical discovery of the feared invasive species in the Chicago waterway system north of the electric barriers.

Within minutes of the official announcement, lawmakers from Michigan and environmental advocacy groups were once more chastising Illinois’ response to the Asian carp crisis and threatening a new round of legal action aimed at permanently closing Chicago-area shipping locks.

“This was so tragically predictable,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who is among the architects of the Carp Act, a bill in Congress that would close the shipping locks. “For years, myself and so many others have raised concerns over this issue and were criticized for it or told we were overreacting. Today, our worst fears have been confirmed.”
–The Chicago Tribune 

Stunning levels of toxins found in whales
Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood. 

A report noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

 “These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean,” said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.
–The Associated Press

Minerals exploration near BWCA raises concerns
A new partnership between an Ely, Minn., company and a mining giant in Chile has spurred progress on copper and nickel exploration in northern Minnesota. 

But because some of the new exploration is in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, it’s raising concerns among residents and other observers. 

Ely-based Duluth Metals, with financial backing from the Chilean company Antofogasta, has drilled some 170 test holes in a 1,500-acre tract near the South Kawishiwi River and thinks the results are promising.

Duluth Metals is among six companies exploring for minerals near the boundary waters. The companies are drilling deep holes, probing huge deposits of valuable copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

Some question risk of BP drilling in Alaska
The future of BP’s offshore oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico has been thrown into doubt by the recent drilling disaster and court wrangling over a moratorium. 

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters. 

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort. 

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.
–The New York Times

 EPA seeks tax renewal for Superfund clean-ups
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Congress in support of reinstating the lapsed Superfund “polluter pays” taxes. Superfund is the federal government’s program that investigates and cleans up the nation’s most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. 

 If reinstated, the Superfund provision would provide a stable, dedicated source of revenue for the program and increase the pace of Superfund cleanup. It would also ensure that parties who benefit from the manufacture or sale of substances that commonly cause environmental problems at hazardous waste sites, and not taxpayers, help bear the cost of cleanup when responsible parties cannot be identified.

The Superfund taxes expired on Dec. 31, 1995. Since the expiration of the taxes, Superfund program funding has been largely financed from General Revenue transfers to the Superfund Trust Fund, thus burdening the taxpayer with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites. The administration is proposing to reinstate the taxes as they were last in effect on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances that use hazardous chemicals as a feedstock, and on corporate modified alternative minimum taxable income.
More information on the Superfund program: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/
–EPA News Release 

Early spring brings bumper crop of watermilfoil
The weeds on Lake Calhoun have grown so thick this year that it almost looks as if the Minneapolis lake has islands.

 Much of it is Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive species that has taken over in most lakes in the Twin Cities and elsewhere throughout the state. The milfoil has become a common sight, but this year’s warm spring means it has hit its peak earlier than usual. 

The weeds tickle swimmers’ legs and feet and make it harder for boats — especially sailboats — to navigate the lake without getting stuck. 

“It’s just gotten progressively worse, and this is the worst year we’ve had,” said Mike Elson, who leads the Calhoun Yacht Club and has been sailing on Lake Calhoun since 1979.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

California suit challenges groundwater pumping
Commercial fisherman have filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of not leaving enough water in a Northern California river for coho salmon. 

The lawsuit says the State Water Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County allowed groundwater well permits that have depleted the Scott River. 

The plaintiffs say the endangered coho salmon are now on the verge of extinction in the river. 

A spokesman at the State Resources Water Control Board, William L. Rukeyser, says the lawsuit appears to raise many theories about pumping that are not established in California law.
–The Associated Press

 A solar economy – We’re already living in one
We have a solar-based economy, whether or not we realize it. Ninety-four percent of the world’s energy comes from the sun, even energy that doesn’t at first glance seem solar. Coal, oil and natural gas are mostly the products of ancient plants that grew with the sun’s help. The sun drives hydroelectric power by evaporating low-lying water, then dumping it at higher altitudes. Windmills turn because the sun warms the planet’s air unevenly. 

Fortunately, there’s plenty of sun to go around. Our local star is continuously transmitting 180 quadrillion watts of energy to the Earth, 14,000 times our requirements for generating power. So the question isn’t where to get our energy, but how to capture it. 

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, are our most identifiable effort to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. They depend on a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect, discovered in 1839 by a French teenager. Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, then 19, placed two metal plates in a salt solution and generated an electric current by simply placing his rig in the sun.
–The Washington Post 

Ban on genetically modified alfalfa overturned
In its first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ban on the planting of alfalfa seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. 

The decision was a victory for Monsanto and others in the agricultural biotechnology industry, with potential implications for other cases, like one involving genetically engineered sugar beets. 

But in practice the decision is not likely to measurably speed up the resumption of planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa.
–The New York Times 

Improvement predicted in Chesapeake ‘dead  zone’
The fish-smothering “dead zone” now forming in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay is likely to be one of the smallest in the past 25 summers, scientists predicted , a brighter outlook they credited to favorable weather as well as to long-running efforts to clean up the estuary.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science forecast that this summer will produce the fifth-smallest stretch of water in the bay’s depths deprived of the oxygen that fish, crabs and oysters need to breathe.

Whether that means the bay is on the road to recovery depends on which scientist you ask.
–The Baltimore Sun 

Taconite mill to pay $19,000 in air-quality case
ArcelorMittal Mine Inc. recently agreed to pay a $19,000 civil penalty for alleged air quality violations and will be required to complete corrective actions to bring the facility back into compliance within 45 days, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced.  

The company owns and operates a taconite production facility in Virginia, Minn. The facility processes taconite ore and produces pellets for iron-making.  

ArcelorMittal’s air quality permit, issued in 2007, regulates equipment emissions and sets allowable operating ranges for air pollution control devices at several stages of the production process. Company monitoring reports submitted between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2009 documented a number of deviations from air pollution control equipment permit requirements and allowable operating parameters.
–MPCA News Release 

 Grants, loans available for water protection
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking grant proposals from local government units and other entities interested in leading a nonpoint-source, pollution-control project. Priority for funding will be given to projects that protect waters currently meeting state water quality standards. 

The due date for proposals is 4:30 p.m., Aug. 13. 

 The MPCA anticipates there will be $2 million available for grants and $2 million for loans this year. Eligible applicants include watershed districts, Indian tribes, cities and counties, joint powers organizations and watershed management organizations. There is a $500,000 limit on each grant funding request and no limit for a loan request. Proposals must be sent electronically to CWP.Grant.PCA@ state.mn.us. 

This year, the MPCA will offer funds for two types of projects:

  • Resource investigation to monitor, assess and develop a diagnostic study for water bodies, along with a plan to implement activities that address the needs of the water bodies.
     
  • Implementation of activities already identified by a comprehensive assessment and planning process in the watershed or area around the water body of concern. 

For information, go www.pca.state.mn.us/water/cwp-319.html.
–MPCA News Release

Progress seen on curly-leaf pondweed
Two years after Eden Prairie’s Anderson Lakes were drained in an experiment with natural weed control, rain is finally filling them up again and early results are encouraging:

The weeds, after back-to-back cold treatments, seem to be in retreat.

Northwest and Southwest Anderson Lakes were drained in the fall of 2008 to expose the lake beds to a winter freeze in an attempt to kill unwanted curly-leaf pondweed. The freeze targeted burrlike buds embedded in the lake bed that allow the weed to reproduce.
–The Star Tribune

 

 

43 world nations face ‘water stress’

April 12, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles where they originally were published.

43 countries face ‘water stress,” report says
Ethiopia, Haiti and Niger are facing the world’s worst water shortages, but 700 million people in 43 countries are under “water stress,” according to a new report released by the World Bank last month.

 Almost a third of all the bank’s projects in recent history have been water-related, and a total of $54 billion was spent financing them, the report said. Some, of course, have been controversial, since dams, irrigation projects, flood prevention and watershed-management projects often benefit one group at the expense of others. Also, many projects fail, once built, because the host country is not wealthy or sophisticated enough to maintain them.

 Most countries with severe water problems are also so poor that they are “not creditworthy enough to borrow their way out of water crisis,” the report noted.
–The New York Time

3M clean-up pumps vast amount of groundwater
The good news is that groundwater in Washington County is being cleaned up.

 The bad news is that the cleanup effort will consume more water — up to 9.2 million gallons a day — than Woodbury and Cottage Grove, combined, typically use on a winter day.

 The two cities are asking if there is some way to re-use the water before dumping it into the Mississippi River.

 The cleanup by 3M Co. was ordered by state officials in order to remove traces of perfluorochemicals from groundwater.

 The company is currently pumping at several sites, but its plans to dig new wells in Cottage Grove are raising concerns.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wildlife Federation calls for closing locks
The National Wldlife Federation is the latest group to call for closing the locks that connect the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan in an effort to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

 At the national conservation meeting in Houston, members unanimously passed a resolution calling for the river to be separated from the lakes. It’s a step that has been vigorously opposed by the shipping industry, the tourism industry in Chicago and Illinois lawmakers.

“The National Wildlife Federation realizes this is a hugely important issue, not just for the Great Lakes but for all U.S. waters,” said Jordan Lubetkin of the federation’s Great Lakes office. “Invasive species are a problem that has to be tackled aggressively and immediately.”
–The Detroit News

Invasives speed uptake of PCBs in fish
New University of Michigan research finds invasive species are accelerating PCBs up the food chain.

 Recent dredging of the Saginaw River was intended to remove PCB contaminated soil. U of M fishery biologist David Jude says tests indicate the dredging worked.

 But he says walleyes are showing signs of increased PCB contamination. Jude traces the problem to two invasive species, zebra mussels and round gobies. 

“Zebra mussels filter a liter of water a day. They are removing a large amount of the algae out of that water,” says Jude, “and as a result of that they are picking up a lot higher concentration of PCBs. There are some really outrageous high concentrations of pcbs in zebra mussels in the Saginaw River.”
–Michigan Public Radio

 Fears of new Dust Bowl loom
James Wedel remembers seeing thunderheads on the horizon and thinking: “Oh good, we’re finally gonna get some rain.”

One problem: Those weren’t rain clouds.

“The wind started blowing, the dust started blowing, and you could hardly see in front of your face,” Wedel says. “Static electricity was flying around. It was hard to breathe. I tell you, it was awful scary.” 

Seventy-five years have passed since the worst of the Dust Bowl, a relentless series of dust storms that ravaged farms and livelihoods in the southern Great Plains that carried a layer of silt as far east as New York City. Today, the lessons learned during that era are more relevant than ever as impending water shortages and more severe droughts threaten broad swaths of the nation.
–USA Today

 Source of Minneapolis pollution found
State pollution officials have solved a four-year-old mystery about the source of fish contamination in Lake Calhoun.

A St. Louis Park company used a chemical formerly made by 3M, and it entered the southwest Minneapolis lake through a storm water system, said Ralph Pribble, spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Although the PCA didn’t identify the company, Douglas Corp., which has five manufacturing plants in Minnesota, acknowledged Thursday that air emissions from its St. Louis Park plant may have contributed to the chemical, known as PFOS, being found in the sewer system leading to Lake Calhoun. Company spokesman Blois Olson said the company is cooperating with the investigation.
–The Star Tribune

 ‘Water battery’ captures condensation for trees
According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people – or almost 1 out of 5 people in the world – are without access to safe drinking water.  And even in areas with access, 70 percent of water withdrawn from fresh groundwater sources is used for agriculture.

But using groundwater to grow crops and trees doesn’t make sense to Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor. Not only are traditional irrigation techniques inefficient because most of the water is lost to evaporation, Mr. Hoff says, but water can be easily captured from the atmosphere to grow just about anything.
–The New York Times

Nature Conservancy atlas focuses on ecosystems
What does it take to determine which of the world’s 9,800 bird species depend on fresh water for survival? Try devoting two months’ worth of evenings and weekends to reading the descriptions of every known avian species, which is what Timothy Boucher did. 

Being a fanatic birder, I decided this could be really fun,” recalled Boucher, a senior conservation geographer at the Nature Conservancy who has personally seen and identified 4,257 species of birds in his life. So his “life list,” as birders say, covers 43 percent of the bird species that exist.

The result of Boucher’s work — a map showing the wetlands and rivers on which 828 freshwater bird species depend — is part of the Atlas of Global Conservation, a new publication that shows how nature is faring across the globe.
–The Washington Post 

Fisherman spots polluter in the act
Ken Larson was bewildered by the white foam he spotted twice in two years in the Vermillion River in Hastings.

 “It must’ve been 18 inches thick, and all I knew was that it wasn’t natural,” said Larson, 65, an avid fisherman who walks by the river every day.

 The Hastings resident reported the mystery to city officials and the Dakota County Water Resources Department. Also stumped, they told him to keep monitoring it.

 He did, and said he later saw an employee of a West St. Paul carpet-cleaning business dumping wastewater into a storm-sewer manhole in a Hastings neighborhood. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency served the company, Dynasty Cleaning Services, with a violation notice, and last month Dynasty completed the required corrective actions.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Scott County’s Credit River getting cleaner
The collapse of homebuilding in once-booming Scott County is having at least one quiet payoff:

A lot less pollution. 

It’s one leading theory, anyway, to explain why the Credit River, one of the county’s most important bodies of water, may soon be taken off the state’s list of impaired waters. 

And it would be a particular point of pride in Savage, which boasts of its environmental-mindedness while acknowledging it does contribute to pollution.
–The Star Tribune 

ConAgra vow to cut water, energy use
Over the next five years, ConAgra Foods will ratchet up its sustainability efforts by reducing waste, water use and greenhouse gas emissions companywide, the company said. 

The Omaha-based food producer, whose packaged foods brands include Healthy Choice, Marie Callendar, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and Hunt’s canned tomatoes, said that by 2015 it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and reduce water use by 15 percent from 2008 levels. 

The company said the solid waste it sends to landfills will drop by 75 percent between 2011 and 2015. It also will seek to improve supply chain waste reduction and will work with farmers to increase sustainable farming methods.
–The Omaha World-Herald

Asian carp, atrazine and the U.S. water supply

January 11, 2010

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

White House steps into Asian Carp fight
The Obama administration and Illinois urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to order the closure of Chicago-area locks and waterways, a step sought by neighboring states to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

 The administration said the “dramatic steps” sought by states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota weren’t warranted to prevent the fish from migrating into Lake Michigan.

 “The possibility that Asian carp will move into the Great Lakes is a matter of great concern to the United States, and federal agencies are undertaking concerted, collaborative efforts to combat that risk,” U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, told the justices in papers filed in Washington.

Last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox sued Illinois in the Supreme Court, saying the Asian carp is an aggressive species that could “devastate” the lakes’ native fish population and ruin the region’s $7 billion fishing and tourism industries.
–Bloomberg News 

Groups urge independent study of atrazine 
Almost a dozen Midwestern family-farm groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency to give greater weight to independent science as the agency undertakes a re-evaluation of a popular and controversial weed killer.

The groups said that when the EPA last reviewed the health effects of atrazine in 2003, it held dozens of closed-door meetings with Syngenta, the herbicide’s primary manufacturer, and then approved its continued use.

In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the groups cited health concerns about atrazine and said only a completely transparent process would serve the public and the environment.

 Since atrazine hit the U.S. market a half-century ago, it has become one of the most widely used herbicides, with an estimated 76 million pounds used each year, primarily on corn and in the Upper Midwest. In recent years, it has been found in surface water, groundwater and public water systems.

Many scientists consider atrazine an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interact with the hormone system and cause health problems at low exposure levels. Its use is banned in Europe and unsuccessful attempts have been made to restrict or ban its use in Minnesota.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 America’s dwindling water supply
In its Where America Stands series, CBS News is looking at a broad spectrum of issues facing this country in the new decade. 

Here is the series’ installment on United State water supplies

Americans are the world’s biggest water consumers. By 9 a.m., after showering, using the bathroom, brushing our teeth and having a cup of coffee, each of us typically has used more than 30 gallons of water.

After doing the dishes – 12 gallons per load – running the washing machine – 43 gallons per load – and watering the lawn – 10 gallons per minute – by the time we go to bed, we’ve used up to 150 gallons.

By comparison, people in the U.K. use a quarter of that – 40 gallons of water a day. The Chinese average just 22 gallons per day. And in the poorest countries like Kenya, people use less than the minimum 13 gallons to cover basic needs.

Because Americans use so much, the report card shows water is an emerging crisis here.
–CBS News

New scrutiny for chemical secrecy
Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision. 

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to. 

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.
–The Washington Post

EPA backs mountain-top mining permit
The Environmental Protection Agency came out in support of a permit for one West Virginia mountaintop coal-mining operation and suggested it might endorse another permit for the largest such operation in Appalachia.

 The EPA announcements continue the Obama administration’s up-and-down stance on mountaintop coal mining, which involves blasting off mountaintops to get at the coal underneath. Environmentalists oppose the practice, because they say it permanently damages the land and pollutes streams. Mining companies say the practice is safer and cheaper than traditional underground mining.

The EPA said it decided to support a permit sought by Patriot Coal Corp.’s Hobet Mining LLC after talks with the company “resulted in additional significant protections against environmental impacts.” Patriot Chief Executive Richard Whiting said he was “hopeful” the company could begin work in the area “in the very near future.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must issue the permit.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Groundwater issue lingers for 3M
3M Co. has been claiming for years that its chemicals in water don’t hurt anyone.

 But it turns out they are harmful — to 3M itself.

 The company is now facing an unexpected backlash based on the PFCs — perfluorochemicals — in drinking water. It has erupted in a dispute that has nothing to do with water quality — a routine permit change for an incinerator.

“This isn’t about the incinerator at all, as much as the water pollution,” said Myron Bailey, mayor of Cottage Grove, the home of the incinerator. “It does not matter what 3M thinks. What matters is that people are concerned, and rightly so.”

The company announced in May that it wanted to burn material from non-3M sources in its 38-year-old incinerator. Neighbors objected — citing the water pollution as much as the potential air pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Utah and Nevada close to groundwater deal
Utah and Nevada officials say they’re ready to sign a deal splitting border groundwater in the Snake Valley despite opposition from members of a new Utah advisory board set up to study the plan.

The Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council met at the Utah Capitol to review public comments about the deal, which effectively grants Nevada the water that a Las Vegas utility wants for a proposed pipeline supplying the city. After discussing those comments, board members themselves voiced their misgivings but learned that a final agreement is imminent.

That dismayed Kathy Hill, a Snake Valley teacher whose husband, Ken, is an advisory council member. She told the council the states’ rush to enter an agreement shakes her faith in government. Rural residents are being sold out as Nevada seeks its Vegas pipeline and Utah seeks Nevada’s blessing for one from Lake Powell to St. George, she alleged.
–The Salt Lake Tribune 

Pennsylvania man builds Afghani water supplies
Aldo Magazzeni leans across the table in his farmhouse kitchen and explains why, when it comes to supplying clean water to thousands of impoverished Afghanis, small really is beautiful. 

During the last five years, the 60-year-old co-owner of a New Jersey manufacturing firm has arranged for some 75,000 people in remote areas of Afghanistan to be connected to community water systems.

His efforts helped to end the toil of fetching water and to reduce water-borne diseases, particularly among children. 

The key to his success, he says, is not large sums of money or the involvement of international aid organizations, but his willingness to cultivate relationships with communities and to persuade them to donate the labor that has reduced costs to a fraction of what a commercial contractor would charge.
–Reuters 

CIA and scientists team up
The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis. 

The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.
— The New York Times

Invasive species add to extinction of endangered animals
As 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, gets under way, a fight against some of the most damaging invasive species in US waterways is heating up. 

The UN says some experts put the rate at which species are disappearing at 1,000 times the natural rate, and invasive species – which consume the food or habitat of native species, or the native species themselves – are one factor contributing to this acceleration. Climate change is another major factor. 

“Often it will be the combination of climate change and [invasive] pests operating together that will wipe species out,” says Tim Low of the Australia-based Invasive Species Council. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that 38% of the 44,838 species catalogued on its Red List are “threatened with extinction” – and at least 40% of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known are the result of invasive species.
— The Guardian

Coast Guard preparing invasive species rules
Twenty years after the pervasive zebra mussel was first detected in the Great Lakes, the U.S. Coast Guard is preparing rules to prevent new invasive species from infiltrating the nation’s freshwater systems.

Ecologists, environmentalists and public officials have mixed feelings about the rules. Some expressed their sentiments during a public comment period that ended earlier last month. 

While they are delighted over the prospect of the first national standard for treating ship ballast water — the main conveyor of invasive species — they’re disappointed by the timetable.
— Ganette Washington Bureau 

Arctic may face warmer temperatures in future
There is increased evidence that the Arctic could face seasonally ice-free conditions and much warmer temperatures in the future.

Scientists documented evidence that the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas were too warm to support summer sea ice during the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3 to 3 million years ago). This period is characterized by warm temperatures similar to those projected for the end of this century, and is used as an analog to understand future conditions.

 The U.S. Geological Survey found that summer sea-surface temperatures in the Arctic were between 10 to 18°C (50 to 64°F) during the mid-Pliocene, while current temperatures are around or below 0°C (32°F).

 Examining past climate conditions allows for a true understanding of how Earth’s climate system really functions. USGS research on the mid-Pliocene is the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period. This will help refine climate models, which currently underestimate the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic. To read the full article, click here.
— USGS Press Release

EU ministers consider endocrine disruptors
The European Union’s 27 environment ministers recently asked the European Commission to determine whether legislative action is needed to protect human health from exposure to multiple chemicals. So-called “chemical cocktails,” the combined effects of chemicals that seem safe in isolation but may present health risks when absorbed together, were identified by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas last June as a large future challenge on the global chemicals agenda, according to the EU.

The European Environment and Health Strategy (SCALE) and the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health (2004-2010) also state the combined exposure of chemicals should be addressed in risk assessments. 

Under REACH, the EU’s chemicals legislation, risk assessments are made on a chemical-by-chemical basis with little consideration given to combined effects. However, this gap occurred because “there has been insufficient knowledge of the matter to date, a situation which is now changing,” said Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, environment counselor at the Swedish Representation to the EU.
–Occupational Safety and Health

 Farm groups question USDA staffing
Farming groups in Maryland and Virginia are voicing concern over the recent sudden reassignment of a federal agriculture official whom they saw as their champion in the struggle over ramping up the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.  Some have even suggested she was yanked because she was questioning how much farmers needed to do to clean up the bay.  But the official’s boss says there was nothing nefarious in her being pulled – she was simply needed elsewhere. 

Dana York, a senior manager with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, had been working since last spring as a senior advisor to the bay program in the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Annapolis. But late last month she was ordered back to Washington to take on a new assignment. 

Her reassignment prompted letters from the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., which represents chicken growers and producers, and the Virginia Grain Producers Association. In a letter to growers, Bill Satterfield, executive director of the poultry group, called York’s reassignment “a big blow” to farmers’ ability to cope with the Obama administration’s moves to ramp up bay restoration efforts, including proposals to expand regulation of poultry and other livestock farms.
–The Baltimore Sun

 

Climate, nitrogen flow and ‘sneaker males’

June 22, 2009

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

Climate change research regionalizes U.S. impact

Man-made climate change could bring parching droughts to the Southwest and pounding rainstorms to Washington, put Vermont maple sugar farms out of business and Key West underwater over the next century, according to a federal report released. 

The report, a compilation of work by government scientific agencies, provided the most detailed picture yet of the United States in 2100 — if nothing is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

It found that a warmer world, with average U.S. temperatures increasing four to 11 degrees, would significantly alter natural ecosystems and urban life. More than before, scientists broke down those effects to the regional level. 

To read the full report, click here. To read the Midwest-specific analysis and predictions, click here.

–The Washington Post 

Farm groups oppose climate change bill

Minnesota farmers thought they’d be wearing the white hats.

When the climate-change debate began, many growers were intrigued. They control millions of green acres, the dawn of carbon credits promised new revenue and biofuels showed green could be profitable.

“We are the ones that are growing the crops, and we are the ones that have control over the carbon capture,” said Doug Albin, a corn and soybean farmer near Clarkfield. “So we were trying to figure out if there’s anything we could do to help.”

 It hasn’t worked out that way. As global-warming legislation is being rushed through Congress, nearly every farm group in America now opposes it. Even the Farmers Union, which remains gung-ho about carbon-credit trading, said it would “very much like to support climate-change legislation.” But it won’t, as written.

 A pair of bruising battles has hardened the lines. First came a fight over measuring the carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol. It’s not part of the cap-and-trade bill, but it was a big part of the climate-change debate. When regulators took a hard line against ethanol, the once-hopeful farm sector soured.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 3M wins groundwater suit

The 3M Co. won a landmark court case when a jury ruled against claims of Washington County residents suing the company over chemicals in their groundwater.

 For 3M, it was a triumphant end to a five-year case that once loomed as one of the largest environmental lawsuits in Minnesota history.

 “Obviously, we are pleased with the verdict. It was supported by the evidence,” 3M spokesman Bill Nelson said.

 The jury delivered the unanimous verdict with surprising speed — deliberating four hours to decide a case that involved five weeks in court, 35 witnesses, eight law firms and more than 300 exhibits.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Nitrogen flow to Gulf reduced from 2008

The amount of nutrients delivered from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in April and May of 2009 to the northern Gulf of Mexico was the tenth- highest measured (about 295,000 metric tons of nitrate-nitrogen) by the U.S. Geological Survey in three decades.

 The amount of nutrients delivered in the spring is a primary factor controlling the size of the hypoxic zone that forms during the early summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is the second largest hypoxic zone in the world. Hypoxic zones are areas where oxygen levels drop too low to support most aquatic life in the bottom and near-bottom waters.

In 2008, the hypoxic zone exceeded 20,000 square kilometers, an area similar in size to the state of New Jersey. This spring’s delivery of nitrogen was about 23 percent lower than what was measured in 2008, but still about 11 percent above the average from 1979 to 2009. The amount of nutrients delivered to the Gulf each spring depends, in large part, on precipitation and the resulting amounts of nutrient runoff and streamflow in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin. Streamflows in spring 2009 were about 17 percent above average over the last 30 years.

In previous years, preliminary nutrient fluxes were estimated through June, and were provided in July. Researchers have reported that the May nutrient fluxes are more critical than June nutrient fluxes in determining the extent of the hypoxic zone for that summer. Thus, the USGS is now releasing preliminary estimates of the nutrient flux in mid-June to better address the needs of researchers predicting the size of the hypoxic zone.

–U.S. Geological Survey

 Ruffed grouse count up significantly

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts are significantly higher than last year across most of their range, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 “Counts have been increasing steadily since 2005 but this is the substantial annual increase we’ve been hoping for,” said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist. “Drumming counts this year are as high as counts during recent peaks in the population cycle.”

 Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 2.0 drums per stop statewide. Last year’s average was 1.4 drums per stop. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

–Minnesota DNR 

Beware the round goby ‘sneaker’ males

Scientists have found the existence of two types of males of a fiercely invasive fish spreading through the Great Lakes, which may provide answers as to how they rapidly reproduce.

 The research, published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, looks at the aggressive round goby, a bottom-dwelling fish which infested the Great Lakes watersheds around 1990. Presently, they are working their way inland through rivers and canal systems and can lead to the decline of native species through competition and predation.

Researchers at McMaster University discovered evidence that in addition to round goby males which guard the nest from predators and look after their offspring, there exists what scientists call “sneaker” males – little males that look like females and sneak into the nests of the larger males.

–Science Daily.com

 Good and bad news on fish in upper Mississippi

The current health and status of the Upper Mississippi River and its resources, such as fish species, are profiled  in a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state partners.

 Good news — the report indicates that almost all fish species known from the Upper Mississippi River over the past 100 years still presently occur in the river. Bad news — five species of non-native carp make up one half of the weight of all fish, while the other half of the scale is made up of nearly 150 native fish species. These non-native fish harm the ecosystem by destroying habitat and competing for food and space with native species.

–USGS web site

 Wisconsin DNR issues controversial pumping permit

After years of pilot programs and numerous stopgap measures, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued the Crystal, Fish and Mud Lake District a controversial five-year permit that will allow it to continually pump water from its lakes to the Wisconsin River.

 For the residents living in the lake district, the permit represents the culmination of nearly 10 years and about $600,000 spent devising a way to lower the lakes encroaching upon their homes.

 The permit will allow the district to pump 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Fish Lake is lowered about 3 feet to its normal high-water mark.

 However, opponents of the permit view it as eroding environmental standards and potentially damaging the quality of the lower Wisconsin River.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 Wisconsin crayfish harvested for perch bait

Jim Hansen waded into the chocolate milk-colored Root River, pulled up one of his nine mesh traps and examined the dripping, snapping, writhing contents – crayfish destined to lure Lake Michigan perch to anglers’ fishhooks.

 Some clung valiantly to the sides of the trap, like shipwrecked sailors clutching a life raft. As Hansen tipped the trap toward a white plastic bucket, one critter fell into the water.

 “Oh, we didn’t want him anyway. We’ll get him tomorrow,” Hansen said.

 The 65-year-old Mount Pleasant man, as well as other wild bait harvesters elsewhere in the state, is busy trapping the invasive species that panfish love to eat.

–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Suit challenges de-listing of wolves

Five groups sued the government for removing more than 4,000 gray wolves in the upper Great Lakes region from the endangered list, prolonging a dispute over whether the predator can survive without federal protection.

 Despite the wolf’s comeback from near-extinction in the region over the past two decades, some activists insist it remains vulnerable. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks an injunction returning Great Lakes wolves to the endangered list while the case is heard.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections last month, as the Obama administration upheld a Bush-era finding that the wolf could survive under state management. The animal protection and environmental groups disagreed.

Management plans crafted by Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin presently do not allow wolves to be hunted or trapped, although farmers and pet owners can kill wolves attacking domestic animals.

–The Associated Press

 USDA kills 4.9 million animals

The number of animals poisoned, shot or snared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than doubled last year, and environmentalists who are critical of the killings are renewing their effort to cut the program’s funding.

 The USDA’s Wildlife Services division killed more than 4.9 million animals during the 2008 fiscal year, some of them pests that threaten crops. That’s more than double the 2.4 million animals killed the previous year, but the agency contends the increase is due to more accurate counting methods.

 Wildlife Services, which released the annual death count last week, reported that 90 percent of animals killed in 2008 included crows, blackbirds, magpies and three species of invasive birds: European starlings, sparrows and pigeons.

–The Associated Press

 U.S., Canada to revise Great Lakes pact

The United States and Canada say they will update a key agreement to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species, climate change and other established and emerging threats to the world’s biggest surface freshwater system.

 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was last amended in 1987, is no longer sufficient.

 She announced the deal to revise it — something environmental groups have been pushing for — with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The treaty created an international commission to settle water-related disputes between the two countries.

–The Associated Press

 Chemicals, human hormones don’t mix

First organic food — free of pesticides — had the spotlight. Then consumers learned about buying cosmetics without parabens. Just last month Minnesota banned the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups.

The mounting health cautions might seem tedious — does every little thing cause cancer? — but a common thread weaves through the concerns. Numerous everyday products are made with chemicals that may disrupt people’s endocrine system, which is also known as the hormone system.

–The Star Tribune

EPA sets hearing in Ashland, Wis., cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a cleanup plan for polluted soil, ground water and sediment at the Ashland/Northern States Power Lakefront Superfund site in Ashland, Wis. A public comment period runs June 17 to July 16.

  A formal public hearing where comments on the plan will be accepted is set for 7 p.m., Monday, June 29, at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

The EPA, with consultation from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is proposing an estimated $83 million to $97 million cleanup project that includes:

  •  Removing soil from the most contaminated areas of Kreher Park and the Upper Bluff/Filled Ravine, thermally treating the soil on-site and re-using it or disposing of it off-site.
  • Using barriers to contain and stop the movement of contaminants in groundwater, possibly treating the groundwater in-place and adding wells to extract and treat ground water.
  •  Digging up wood waste and contaminated sediment near the Chequamegon Bay shore and dredging contaminated sediment offshore, covering the offshore cleanup area with 6 inches of clean material and treating contaminated sediment after removal or disposing of it off-site.

 The Ashland/NSP Lakefront Superfund site includes several properties within the city of Ashland, including Kreher Park, and about 16 acres of sediment and surface water in Chequamegon Bay. Environmental concerns stem from a manufactured gas plant that operated in the area from 1885 to 1947.

Find more site information at http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/ashland/index.htm.
–EPA News Release

Obama stuns environmentalists with national forest stance

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to “support and defend” pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the George W. Bush administration.

But five months into Obama’s presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on about 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

 The roadless issue is one of several instances of the administration defending in court environmental policies that it once vowed to end.

Its position has been a disappointment to environmentalists who had hoped for decisive action in rolling back Bush-era policies.

–Los Angeles Times

 Pollution studied through tiny microorganisms

With a $165,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Melissa Lobegeier will soon begin a second study focused on water quality, and this time, she will focus her research in the Clinch and Powell Rivers of southwestern Virginia, where pollution from mining is a concern.

 An assistant professor of geosciences at Middle Tennessee State University, Lobegeier will examine two types of microorganisms that are indicators of pollution; namely, thecamoebians and foraminifera, which are hard-shelled, single-celled organisms that tend to be very well preserved because of their hard shells. While a lot remains unknown about them because it’s difficult to keep them alive in the lab, Lobegeier says they are believed to catch food particles by sticking protoplasm out through holes in the shells. Their reproductive cycle is something of a puzzle.

 “They have an asexual phase where they reproduce by splitting up their protoplasm up into a whole lot of juveniles and then regrow,” she says. “And then they have a sexual phase where that asexual generation produces the egg and the sperm, which then they release from their shell. And they come together to form the next juveniles, who reproduce asexually.”

–Science Blog

 “Green” rating system developed for fish

Quick: Which fish has a smaller carbon footprint: yellowfin or barramundi? What about halibut or salmon? Oysters or clams?

 Those are questions that even the most earnest chef would probably have a hard time answering. Even if he could know, just keeping track would be a full-time job.

Chefs have plenty of other things to do. And so at their behest, Washington, D.C.-based seafood distributor ProFish soon will unveil a rating system that helps chefs compare the environmental impacts of popular fish from sea to table.

 The program, called Carbon Fishprint, gives each fish a score based on whether it was farmed or wild, how it was caught, and the amount of energy used in harvesting and shipping.

–The Washington Post

 Lake Tahoe project aims to end invasive species spread

This summer, researchers will begin a project aimed at halting the spread of invasive species in Lake Tahoe. While the Tahoe Keys are the focus, the work is important for all who live around the lake, take advantage of its recreational opportunities, appreciate its beauty or depend on tourism for their livelihood.

Most of us are familiar with the efforts to keep destructive quagga mussels out of the lake. While we’re winning that battle for now, other invaders — such as the aquatic plants Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed and the warm water fish largemouth bass and bluegill — are already established.

–The Tahoe Daily Tribune

 Hearing proposed for Arizona gas storage bill

The collapse of two salt water wells in southeast New Mexico is reason enough to kill a bill exempting a proposed natural gas storage facility in Eloy from Arizona groundwater protection rules, the project’s opponents say.

 Supporters, however, say that it’s not fair to compare the two operations because they’re significantly different, and that the Arizona gas storage site can be designed to make sure a collapse doesn’t happen.

 An Arizona State Senate committee plans a hearing on the proposed Eloy facility on Monday afternoon. The House has already passed the bill, which supporters say is needed to ensure adequate long-term natural gas supplies and which opponents fear risks groundwater contamination

–Arizona Daily Star

 Joshua trees could disappear from S. California

A breeze stirs the silence at Joshua Tree National Park as a red-tailed hawk takes flight from the spiky arm of one of the namesake plants in search of breakfast.

It’s a scene that national parks protector Mike Cipra has witnessed many times. Still, he can’t contain his enthusiasm on this early morning outing, despite the gloomy topic he’s discussing with a visitor — the probable extinction of the Joshua tree in the park that bears its name.

 The ancient plants are dying in the park, the southern-most boundary of their limited growing region, scientists say. Already finicky reproducers, Joshua trees are the victim of global warming and its symptoms — including fire and drought — plus pollution and the proliferation of non-native plants. Experts expect the Joshuas to vanish entirely from the southern half of the state within a century.

–The Press Enterprise

 U-Haul customers give $1 million to offset emissions In April of 2007, U-Haul began partnering with The Conservation Fund to facilitate customers’ donations at checkout in order to offset carbon emissions generated from in-town and out-of-town moves. In just two years, more than 287,000 U-Haul customers have elected to offset their emissions. The Conservation Fund has used those donations to plant 133,000 trees that are expected to trap 156,000 tons of carbon dioxide as they mature.

“By leveraging our human, technical, financial and business resources, U-Haul and our customers have made a real difference in protecting the environment and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions,” stated John “J.T.” Taylor, president of U-Haul International, Inc. “U-Haul customers should be applauded for their support of The Conservation Fund, and for benefiting the communities where we live and serve.”

–PR Newswire

Sustainable practices yield profits, study says

A series of scandals over the years have taught Western companies an important lesson about operating in developing countries: Any indication that a company or one of its suppliers is exploiting workers or damaging the environment in these regions can have devastating effects on a company’s reputation—world-wide. The result is fleeing customers and investors.

 But here’s a lesson many executives have yet to learn: A commitment to improving social and environmental conditions in the developing countries where a company operates is the key to maximizing the profits and growth of those operations.

 That’s the conclusion we drew after studying more than 200 companies. As a group, the companies most engaged in social and environmental sustainability are also the most profitable.

–The Wall Street Journal

 Veterans want inquiry into Camp Lejeune water contamination

Kidney cancer, Mike Edwards says, came so close to killing him five years ago that he saw a stairway to heaven and smelled the brimstone of hell.

Now, Edwards and thousands of other veterans are caught in a kind of purgatory. They believe decades of drinking-water contamination at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base sickened them or their family members.

But they may never know the truth.

 Federal officials acknowledge that, from the 1950s to 1985, up to 500,000 people at Lejeune might have been exposed to high doses of chemicals that probably cause cancer and other illnesses.

 A new report offers little hope of answers. No amount of study, it said, is likely to conclusively prove the contamination made anybody sick.

–The Sun News

 Alaska lake dumping permit upheld by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal government permit to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby lake, even though all its fish would be killed.

 By a 6-3 vote, the justices say a federal appeals court wrongly blocked the permit on environmental grounds.

Environmentalists fear that the ruling could set a precedent for how mining waste is disposed in American lakes, streams and rivers.

 The Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 issued a permit for waste disposal at the proposed Kensington mine north of Juneau. Under the plan, tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from ore — would be dumped into Lower Slate Lake.

–The Star Tribune

 Hudson River PCB-sludge to be dumped in Texas

Later this month, the first trainloads of PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River will arrive and, in the eyes of critics, will turn a stretch of West Texas into New York’s “pay toilet.”

 They argue that burying dirt so toxic that General Electric Co. will spend at least six years and an estimated $750 million to dig it up will only create a new mess for future generations to clean up.

 But for 15 new jobs and the little bit of money it’ll bring local businesses, the folks who live near the site are willing to take the risk, however remote, of tainting the area’s groundwater by taking out somebody else’s trash.

–The Star Tribune

A pollution case goes to trial

May 4, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Lawrence Seaway: Economic boon, pathway for invasives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush rule on mountaintop mining may change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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