Posts Tagged ‘agricultural runoff’

Report: The pollution from 9 billion chickens

August 1, 2011

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

‘Big Chicken’ examines poultry pollution
“Big Chicken,” a new report by the Pew Environment Group, looks at the United States’ fast-growing poultry industry and the water pollution that often results from the highly concentrated manure chickens produce.

Chicken, once a distant third to pork and beef, is now the most popular meet in America. Each of us, on average, consumes 84 pounds of chicken a year, according to the Pew report.

High-phosphorus chicken manure from big poultry operations in Maryland and Delaware long has been implicated as major cause of pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

About 9 billion broiler chickens – grown for food, not eggs —  are grown each year in the U.S., according to the report. Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas account for 65 percent of the total.  Minnesota, a big turkey-producing state,  grows about 48 million broilers a year, less than 1 percent of the total, according to data
on the Pew web site.

New carp evidence found near Chicago
Federal officials announced that they will begin intensive monitoring of waterways near Lake Michigan after genetic material from the invasive Asian carp showed up in a third consecutive round of testing.

Crews will use electric jolts to stun fish, sweep the waterway with half-mile-long nets and conduct additional sampling in Lake Calumet and the Calumet River near Chicago during a four-day period beginning Monday, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Council announced.

DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the Great Lakes after migrating northward from the South for decades, was found in 11 samples in the lake and the river during testing in July. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on July 22 that it had found two consecutive samples containing DNA from silver carp and would increase its response if DNA was
found in a third sample.
–The Associated Press

Chesapeake Bay ‘dead zone’ expanding
A giant underwater “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay is growing at an alarming rate because of unusually high nutrient pollution levels this year, according to Virginia and Maryland officials. They said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.

This year’s Chesapeake Bay dead zone covers a third of the bay, stretching from the Baltimore Harbor to the bay’s mid-channel region in the Potomac River, about 83 miles, when it was last measured in late June. It has since expanded beyond the Potomac into Virginia, officials said.

Especially heavy flows of tainted water from the Susquehanna River brought as much nutrient pollution into the bay by May as
normally comes in an entire average year, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources researcher said. As a result, “in Maryland we saw the worst June” ever for nutrient pollution, said Bruce Michael, director of the DNR’s resource assessment service.
–The Washington Post

A mid-summer update on Minnesota lakes
If you missed it, listen to Patrick Sweeney from the Freshwater Society and Luke Skinner and Jason Moeckel  from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discuss water quality and invasive species  in Minnesota’s lakes. The three were
interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday program on July 29.

Judge excoriates EPA for inaction
A federal judge blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland and District of Columbia for ignoring the impact of pollutants on the Anacostia River in approving a cleanup plan that was more than 30 years in the making.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth lamented the trio’s failure to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act in a decision granting summary judgment to Anacostia Riverkeeper Inc. and Friends of the Earth.

The 67-page opinion forces the agency to reconsider the total daily maximum loads (TDML) of pollution that can be discharged into the river.

“The CWA [Clean Water Act] was enacted in light of severe threats to the nation’s navigable waters, and it was intended to spur immediate action by both federal and state authorities,” Lamberth wrote. “Yes (sic) despite the act’s command that states identify and develop TMDLs for implemented waters, the district and EPA spent 20 years ignoring these obligations and fighting attempts to compel them to act. Then, despite the act’s unmistakable requirement to develop a total maximum daily load for each
pollutant, EPA and the district spent the next 7 years insisting that they need only develop annual loads. And now, despite the act’s clear instruction that each TMDL set levels necessary to implement all applicable water quality standards, EPA and the District – now joined by Maryland-have spent the last 4 years arguing that they need only pay attention to some of those
standards. The Court will not countenance such conduct.” (Italics in original.)
–Courthouse News Service

EPA tells Wisconsin to improve permitting
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that its permit system to control water pollution doesn’t meet standards set by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The EPA’s action is a victory for the Clean Water Action Council of Northeastern Wisconsin, which has opposed for years the state’s water pollution permit to the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Green Bay. The council claimed the permit, which expired last year, allowed unlimited discharges of mercury and increased amounts of phosphorous into the Fox River.

In a letter to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the EPA’s Regional Administrator Susan Hedman wrote that there are “numerous apparent omissions and deviations between Wisconsin’s current statute and regulations and federal requirements.”

Hedman said the EPA has not approved elements of Wisconsin’s permits that “are less stringent or comprehensive than federally required.” The EPA requires states to meet at least the minimum standards in the Clean Water Act.
–The Green Bay Press Gazette

Opinion: House GOP ‘riders’ attack environment
While almost no one was looking, House Republicans embarked on a broad assault on the nation’s environmental laws, using as their weapon the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. When debate began, the bill included an astonishing 39 anti-environmental riders — so called because they ride along on appropriations bills even though they have nothing to do with spending and are designed to change policy, in this case disastrously.

Riders generally are not subjected to hearings or extensive debate, and many would not survive on their own. They are often written in such a way that most people, even many Capitol Hill insiders, need a guide to understand them. They are, in short, bad policy pushed forward through a bad legislative process.

A rider can be removed from the bill only with a vote to strike it. The Democrats managed one big victory when, by a vote of 224 to 202, the House struck one that would have gutted the Endangered Species Act by blocking the federal government from listing any new species as threatened or endangered and barring it from protecting vital habitat — a provision so extreme that even some Republicans could not countenance it.
–The New York Times

California regulates chromium 6 in water
The California Environmental Protection Agency released the nation’s first standard for limiting a cancer-causing chemical in drinking water.

The agency set a public health goal for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, that will be used by the state’s Department of Public Health to help create a legally enforceable limit on the chemical in drinking water. The agency set the goal at .02 parts per billion.

Chromium 6 gained national infamy after a toxic plume contaminated water in the Mojave Desert town of Hinkley (San Bernardino County) – leading to a $333 million settlement from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. – and was dramatized in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Dr. George Alexeef, acting director of the agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said the goal “is the culmination of years of study and research on the health effects of this chemical. As the nation’s first official goal for this contaminant, it will be an important tool” to develop a regulatory standard.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

4 million Chinese face pollution crisis
The drinking water for a major city in China’s Sichuan Province has become unusable due to pollution from an electrolytic manganese plant. Bottled water and some food items have become scarce as people emptied store shelves to stock up. In addition, it took authorities five days to make a public announcement that tap water was unsafe for consumption.

Four million people in Mianyang, the second largest city in Sichuan Province, have been left without municipal drinking water when the Fujiang River, the city’s water source, became polluted by manganese tailings.

Torrential rain on July 20 in the upstream area of the Fujiang River threatened the gangue dam of an electrolytic manganese metal plant in Xiaohe Village, Songpang County. Fearing the possibility of landslides, the plant released floodwater in the early morning of July 21, resulting in 10,000 cubic meters (353,146 cubic feet) of the tailings being washed into the Fujiang River, the
Southern Metropolis Daily reported on July 28.

On July 26, five days after the initial pollution incident, the environmental
protection department of Mianyang City reported that samples
from both upstream and downstream contained manganese levels about 20 times
higher than allowed by the state’s water quality standards.
–The Epoch Times

USDA announces non-food biofuel sites
The US Department of Agriculture announced the designation of nearly 80,000 acres in six different states for the production of non-food crops that can be converted into biofuels.

Four project areas in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington will be set aside for growing camelina, hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass under the Agriculture Department’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

These designations add to five BCAP project areas announced earlier this year for up to 250,000 acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These crops are the first-ever national investments in expanding U.S. biomass resources beyond corn and forestry to meet domestic energy security.
–SustainableBusiness.com

California water users sue water ‘bankers’
Peter Key knew something was strange when the water levels in his tropical fish tank began to go down last summer. Then the
washing machine took 40 minutes to fill, and the toilets would not flush.

But even as Mr. Key and neighbors spent $14,000 to deepen their community well here, they had identified a likely culprit.

They blamed water banking, a system in which water-rights holders — mostly in the rural West — store water in underground
reservoirs either for their own future use or for leasing to fast-growing urban areas.

So the neighbors’ small local water utility has gone to state court to challenge the wealthy farming interests that dominate two of the country’s largest water banks.
–The New York Times (Second installment in the Times’ Precious Waters series about dwindling water supplies across the U.S.)

Wisconsin suit challenges 4,300-cow dairy
Factory farm opponent Family Farm Defenders along with Bob Clarke, a property owner near the proposed Richfield Dairy, have
filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in an effort to slow down the process that would allow construction of a new 4,300-cow dairy near Coloma.

Clarke and Family Farm Defenders, in their lawsuit filed in Dane County, are asking for judicial review of an administrative decision by the DNR that approved plans and specifications for Richfield Dairy, a concentrated animal feeding operation in Adams County owned by MilkSource.

Richfield Dairy applied for plans and specifications approval on Feb. 23, and received statutory approval from the DNR on June 24.
–The Northwestern

 

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Dayton, DNR unveil invasives effort

March 22, 2011

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

Dayton seeks fee increases for invasives fight
Saying zebra mussels, Asian carp, Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive species threaten Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, billion-dollar tourism industry and a way of life, Gov. Mark Dayton announced a legislative proposal to slow their spread.

 Catching boaters who transport invasive species to or from infested lakes is part of the plan, which would be paid for by raising the boat registration surcharge and nonresident fishing fees. But the proposal clashes with the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has vowed no tax increases or fee hikes.

 Still, Dayton and DFL legislators said it’s imperative that both parties agree to slow the spread of invasives before it’s too late.

 “What we’re trying to protect is truly priceless,” Dayton said. “The clock is ticking. This is not a Republican, DFL or Independence Party problem, it’s a Minnesota problem. And once it’s too late, it’s too late.”
–The Star Tribune

U.N.’s World Water Day looks at urban water
Half of the world’s population now lives in cities, with 3 million urban arrivals every week. In the next two decades, nearly two-thirds of humanity will be living in cities, delegates at a three-day event held in Cape Town to mark World Water Day were told.

This year, WWD is focusing on the provision of water in urban areas.

Over a thousand representatives from more than 30 organisations gathered in South Africa to discuss the urban water challenges and opportunities facing the world today. It is hosted by South Africa, in collaboration with UN-Water, the African Ministers’ Council on Water (Amcow), the UN secretary general’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (Unsgab), the UN Environment Programme, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In Africa, where the rate of urbanisation is the world’s highest and urban populations are expected to double in the next 20 years, water services have been on the decline since 1990. Amcow highlighted the opportunities provided by the conference for African ministers, mayors, civil society organisations and representatives of development banks and the private sector to discuss how they can move faster and more effectively in closing this gap and achieving millennium development goals. The critical need for collaboration and communication between sectors, and the need for visionary leadership to manage the planet’s limited water resources were recurring themes.
–The Guardian 

 EPA probes chronic sewage spills in Chicago
Billed as an engineering marvel and national model, Chicago’s Deep Tunnel was designed to protect Lake Michigan from sewage overflows and put an end to the once-frequent practice of dumping human and industrial waste into local rivers.

But nearly four decades after taxpayers started paying for one of the nation’s most expensive public works projects, billions of gallons of bacteria-laden sewage and storm runoff still routinely pour into the Chicago River and suburban waterways during and after storms, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Lake Michigan, long considered the sewage outlet of last resort, has been hit harder during the past four years than it was in the previous two decades combined.

Between 2007 and 2010, records show, the agency in charge of Deep Tunnel dumped nearly 19 billion gallons of storm water teeming with disease-causing and fish-killing waste into the Great Lake, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Research: House cats a menace to birds
While public attention has focused on wind turbines as a menace to birds, a new study shows that a far greater threat may be posed by a more familiar antagonist: the pet house cat.

 A new study in The Journal of Ornithology on the mortality of baby gray catbirds in the Washington suburbs found that cats were the No. 1 killer in the area, by a large margin.

 Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths, according to the researchers, from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University in Maryland. Death rates were particularly high in neighborhoods with large cat populations.
–The New York Times

Phenology applies nature to science
People have tracked phenology for centuries and for the most practical reasons: it helped them know when to hunt and fish, when to plant and harvest crops, and when to navigate waterways. Now phenology is being used as a tool to assess climate change and its effects on both natural and modified ecosystems.

 How is the timing of events in plant and animal life cycles, like flowering or migration, responding to climate change? And how are those responses, in turn, affecting people and ecosystems?

 The USA National Phenology Network is working to answer these questions for science and society by promoting a broad understanding of plant and animal phenology and their relationship to environmental change. The network is a consortium of organizations and individuals that collect, share, and use phenology data, models, and related information to enable scientists, resource managers, and the public to adapt in response to changing climates and environments. In addition, the network encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and record phenology as a way to discover and explore the nature and pace of our dynamic world.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 Wisconsin Gov. Walker calls for rules rollback
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill proposal would roll back regulations designed to protect waterways from weed-producing phosphorus and other pollutants that wash from streets and construction sites.

The changes to water pollution rules – some of which were approved as recently as last summer – are coming under fire from environmentalists who say the existing regulations are needed to clean up lakes, rivers and streams.

Critics of Walker say his budget proposals also would unwittingly wipe out other pollution laws.

But the state Department of Natural Resources, which advanced the regulations under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, now says it needs to make changes to avoid heaping huge costs on municipalities and businesses.

 “What we are trying to address are cities’ and companies’ concerns and still make sure we are addressing the phosphorus problem,” said Bruce Baker, administrator of the water division of the DNR.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Farmers urged to do more to clean Chesapeake Bay
A federal study assessing how much farmers are doing to clean up the Chesapeake Bay credits them with making progress in reducing their pollution but says the vast majority need to do more to help the troubled estuary.

Conservation practices adopted by farmers in Maryland and the other five states draining into the bay have cut erosion by more than half and curtailed runoff of fertilizer by 40 percent, according to the study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But 80 percent of the 4.6 million acres used to raise crops need additional measures, the report says, to keep fertilizer from washing off fields into nearby streams when it rains or soaking into ground water and ultimately reaching the bay.

The 158-page report comes as the Obama administration’s push to increase Chesapeake cleanup efforts comes under fire from farm groups and their supporters in the bay region and nationwide.
–The Baltimore Sun

Fix a leak. Save a trillion gallons.
Across the country, household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water per year – enough to supply the water needs of Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles combined. Easily corrected household leaks can increase homeowners’ water bills by 12 percent.

 “When households have a leak, it’s not just a waste of water, it’s a waste of money,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “But by fixing leaky pipes, buying WaterSense products and taking other simple steps, families can save on their water bills and conserve clean water for future generations to enjoy.”

 Homeowners’ water bills provide an easy and quick leak-checking measure; if wintertime water use for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, their home may have a leak. Fixture replacement parts often pay for themselves quickly and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers, professional plumbers, or EPA’s WaterSense irrigation partners.
–EPA News Release

 Invasive lionfishes’ spread is unprecedented
The rapid spread of lionfishes along the U.S. eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean is the first documented case of a non-native marine fish establishing a self-sustaining population in the region, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey studies.

 “Nothing like this has been seen before in these waters,” said Dr. Pam Schofield, a biologist with the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center here.  “We’ve observed sightings of numerous non-native species, but the extent and speed with which lionfish have spread has been unprecedented; lionfishes pretty much blanketed the Caribbean in three short years.”

 More than 30 species of non-native marine fishes have been sighted off the coast of Florida alone, but until now none of these have demonstrated the ability to survive, reproduce, and spread successfully.

Although lionfishes originally came from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, there are now self-sustaining populations spreading along the western Atlantic coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.
–USGS News Release

 Conference on St. Croix set April 5
The 12th annual “Protecting the St. Croix Basin” conference will be held Tuesday, April 5, at the University Center in River Falls, Wis. The conference is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team.

This year’s conference features a celebration of the 100-year history of the St. Croix River Association.  The conference will also explore phosphorus reduction, which is necessary to bring cleaner water to Lake St. Croix, a 25-mile stretch of the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minn. and Prescott, Wis.  This year, the conference will feature a musical tribute, keynote speaker Tia Nelson and an art exhibition called “In a New Light.”

The conference is open to the public.  Advance registrations will be accepted through March 25.  See www.stcroixriverassociation.org  or call 715-635-7406 for information and registration.  The cost is $50, or $25 for students.
–MPCA News Release

Japan quake jolted Florida groundwater
The devastating earthquake that shook Japan caused a temporary jolt in groundwater levels throughout much of Florida, officials said.

 The South Florida Water Management District reports that a network of groundwater gauges registered a jump of up to three inches in the water table from Orlando to the Florida Keys about 34 minutes after the quake struck on March 11.

 The oscillations were observed for about two hours and then stabilized.

 “We were not expecting to see any indication of the geological events in Japan given the island’s great distance from Florida,” Susan Sylvester, the water district’s director of operations control and hydro data management department, said.

 Shimon Wdowinski, an earthquake researcher with the University of Miami, said the water table likely rose because of Florida’s porous limestone, which allows water to easily flow beneath the earth’s surface and respond to changes in pressure caused by a wave.
–The Associated Press

Watersheds; ag pollution; carp and moose

February 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig A. Cox

If you had to miss the lecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

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

Craig A. Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinking land levels in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Look out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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