Posts Tagged ‘ballast water’

Legacy, ladybugs and Lutsen

October 31, 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.

Questions dog Legacy expenditures
Over the next 23 years, Minnesota will spend an estimated $2 billion in Legacy funds to make its lakes and rivers cleaner.

But who’s to say whether that money will be well spent? That those waters will be in appreciably better shape than they are now? That the money won’t go down some big hole or lots of little ones?

As the state begins handling constitutionally dedicated money approved by voters in 2008, questions are being raised about the clean-water portion of that amendment. Some activists worry much of that money, especially that dealing with pollution from agriculture, could be wasted or could go to less effective uses.

“There are a lot of things to be concerned about, and I worry a lot,” said Gene Merriam, head of the Freshwater Society and a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and state senator. “This is a lot of money. I’m concerned that little or nothing comes of it.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Nine-spotted ladybug

More good news on rare species
Two weeks ago, this blog took some delight in the recent spotting of a baby Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota’s Martin County. Scientists had feared the threatened species was not reproducing at the study site.

Now comes some good news about another species: The rare nine-spotted ladybug.

The Coccinella novemnotata is the state insect of New York but has long been thought to be extinct in the state. A live ladybug was found on Long Island in July.

It turns out that disappearing ladybugs are a problem throughout the U.S., and there is a Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University that encourages citizen scientists to look for, photograph and report rare ladybugs.

The Associated Press reports that the leading theory about the decline of native ladybugs is that they were somehow displaced by the seven-spotted ladybug, which was introduced from Europe and released as natural pest control to eat aphids on crops. Seven-spotted ladybugs are now common, as are Asian multicolored ladybugs, which were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s and ’80s to control scale insects on trees.

The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States. But by 1999, extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000. to enlist children and adults as citizen scientists to survey the ladybug population.

China invest billions in desalination race
TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.

There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.

“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”

In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.

As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
–The New York Times

Public comment sought on Lutsen snowmaking
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on a proposal for a temporary permit that would allow Lutsen Mountain Corporation to continue to draw water from the Poplar River for its snowmaking operation.

Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.

The 2011 Legislature authorized the resort owner to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive days. The flow in the river has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate provision of Minnesota statutes, however, authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed if there is “just cause.”

In this case, the DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on the potential economic impacts to the local community, the low numbers of trout present in the affected reach of river, and the likelihood that some trout mortality will occur, whether the resort temporarily appropriates water or not.

“The most important aspect of this issue is that the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC,” explained DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We need concurrence from LMC and key legislators that they are committed to finding an alternate source of water for snowmaking – probably Lake Superior – within three years to prevent a reoccurrence of this very difficult situation.”

The draft permit and a FAQ with additional background information is available online.

The public may submit comments through Nov. 4 at publiccomment.dnr@state.mn.us.
–DNR News Release

Research shows stream buffers’ value
A new take on a fairly common conservation practice can do a lot more than previously thought to control nutrient runoff in crop fields, according to new research in Iowa.

A project testing the viability of riparian buffer strips to remove nutrients from crop runoff water was conducted this growing season by the Ames, Iowa-based Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main target for the research was a 1,000-foot stretch of Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, where a “saturated buffer” was installed to catch tile-line water before it’s released into waterways.

The system uses “a shallow lateral line” that “has control structures that raise the water table and slow outflow, allowing the buffers to naturally remove nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous.””

The results: In addition to curbing over half of the immediate tile line outflow into waterways, it removes all of the nitrate output, says USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and lead researcher for the project Dale Jaynes.

“The system removed 100% of the nitrate from 60% of the field tile flow,” Jaynes says. “We figure that 250 kilograms, or about 500 pounds, of nitrate nitrogen was kept out of the stream.”
–Agriculture.com

Mississippi River is Sip of Science topic
Pat Nunnally, the River Life coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, will be the next speaker in the Sip of Science lecture series. The series, sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the university’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, offers scientific discussion in a happy-hour setting.

Nunnally will speak Wedenesday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Cafe,  125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.

The River Life Program connects University teaching, research and programs to off-campus partners who are working toward a sustainable river and inclusive planning for our river future.  The program utilizes diverse digital platforms and makes strong use of social media to create unique learning opportunities — students learn from practitioners, river agency staff network more with each other, and communities up and down the river can share their experiences.

Research: Wis. Dairy wells would lower lakes
State Department of Natural Resources officials will need to decide whether lowering the level of surrounding lakes and streams by about two inches is an acceptable outcome from a planned large dairy operation, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor says.

People who live near the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County asked George Kraft, a hydrogeologist at UW-Stevens Point, to look at the potential impact of two high-capacity wells planned as part of the proposed 4,300-cow dairy operation.

Kraft said he doesn’t favor or oppose the wells, and he’s just providing the DNR with facts about the potential effects.

“Is two inches too much? I don’t know,” Kraft said. “This is up to the DNR; this is beyond the science I’m doing.”

The previous owner of the Richfield property where the proposed operation would be located had one high-capacity well, said Bill Harke, director of public affairs for Milk Source, the group that plans to build the dairy. Company officials said in the DNR application the dairy operation would use about 52 million gallons of water annually.
–Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

MPCA approves taconite expansion
A $300 million expansion proposed for U.S. Steel’s taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn., cleared an important hurdle when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board voted to approve its wastewater emissions permit.

The permit, approved in a unanimous vote, sets a more restrictive level for sulfate emissions than the current state standard. That drew praise from at least one environmentalist who has tracked the permitting process.

“It’s a positive,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney with the environmental group WaterLegacy. “U.S. Steel has owned that plant since 2003, and this is the first time they’ve been asked to comply” with sulfate emission standards, she said.
–The Star Tribune

DNA suggests Asian carp are in Mississippi
Read a Minnesota Public Radio transcript of  Luke Skinner, the Minnesota DNR’s invasive species program director, being interviewed about Asian carp.

States ask Supreme Court to hear carp case
Five Great Lakes states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to require nets in Chicago area waterways to stop the spread of Asian carp.

“We need to close the Asian carp superhighway and do it now,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “Time is running out for the Great Lakes, and we can’t afford to wait years before the federal government takes meaningful action.”

The Supreme Court has previously declined two requests from Michigan to close Chicago area waterways to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan.

A federal appeals panel in August rejected the request of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to close Chicago navigational locks, upholding a district court decision. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cautioned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of the invasive species stall.

Attorneys General for the five states cited that warning in their appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn the panel’s decision.
–The Chicago Tribune

Looking for snow removal contractor?
If you are looking for someone to plow your parking lot, choose a firm trained and certified to remove snow
and ice with minimum chloride pollution of water and soil. Find a list of certified contractors on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site.

New York resisting pressure on ballast rules
 The state of New York does not appear to be bowing to pressure from a group of Great Lakes governors, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to back off on its plan to adopt the region’s toughest ballast discharge laws for overseas ships visiting the Great Lakes.

All overseas vessels sailing into the Great Lakes must pass through New York state waters, and in 2013 New York had planned to begin requiring ships to install water treatment systems in their vessel-steadying ballast tanks in order to kill unwanted hitchhikers making their way into the lakes from ports around the globe.

This did not sit well with Walker and fellow governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio, who in September sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to back off on the law. They fear it could harm overseas traffic, a sector of cargo flow that in recent years has accounted for less than 10% of the tonnage that moves on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes states like Wisconsin are pursuing weaker ballast rules developed by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, that allows for a certain number of species of a certain size to be discharged from the ballast tanks, and ships would not have to meet that requirement until 2016.

New York had proposed standards that are 100 times more stringent than the IMO rules for existing vessels and 1,000 times more stringent for ships built after Jan. 1, 2013.

The problem, according to Walker and the other governors, is that technologies do not yet exist to accomplish what New York is pursuing. They fret that New York’s rule will affect the whole Great Lakes region because it covers ships that are only passing through New York waters. Any ship visiting ports such as Milwaukee, Toledo or Gary, Ind., must first travel through New York waters on its journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ceres investor group takes on water
Against a backdrop of increasing business exposure to global water supply threats, Ceres released a new tool for evaluating those risks – and opportunities – that both investors and companies can use as a roadmap to enhanced water stewardship.

Ceres is a U.S.-based coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

“Water risks are urgent today and, given population and climate trends, can only grow increasingly more so,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the Ceres Aqua Gauge: A Framework for 21st Century Water Risk Management.

Even as companies accelerate water efficiency and improved water resource management, water pressures are likely to worsen. According to estimates by McKinsey & Company, the world may face a 40 percent global shortfall between forecast water demand and available supplies by 2030.
–Ceres News Release

Vilsack opposes crop insurance-conservation rule
 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he is not proposing the linking of conservation compliance with subsidized crop insurance, but he is confident that the farm bill will include some kind of regulatory leverage.

Proposals to cut between $23 billion and $33 billion from the omnibus farm bill have been floated to the 12-member “supercommittee” of lawmakers making federal budget cuts.

The committee’s work, rather than the traditional process of the Senate and House agriculture committees, is expected to frame the next farm bill.
–The Des Moines Register

Kansas lakes filling with sediment
John Redmond Reservoir averages just 6 feet deep.

The lake, which supplies water to several Kansas towns and the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, now sits with only about 58 percent of its original capacity.

The rest is goo.
From the smallest farm pond to the largest reservoirs, all Kansas lakes are slowly filling with dirt. Sediment, the simple mixture of water and dirt, is considered one of Kansas’ largest environmental concerns by some experts.
Currently about 60 percent of Kansans get their water from lakes and that number is expected to grow.

Kansas experts say no simple solutions are in sight.
–The Wichita Eagle

China plans groundwater clean-up
 China has pledged to make all its underground drinking water safe and to significantly improve the overall quality of groundwater by 2020, a goal that even some senior environmental officials say will be difficult to achieve.

All pollution from urban sewage, industrial projects and agricultural activity must be cut off from underground sources so that it will not contaminate the water, said Zhao Hualin, director of pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The government also plans to import technologies for groundwater restoration and start pilot treatment projects in the coming five years, Zhao said, citing a national blueprint to tackle underground water pollution for 2011 to 2020, which the State Council issued in August.

About 63 percent of China’s groundwater is safe for drinking, and the rest is polluted, according to a nationwide monitoring study carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources.
–China Daily

Zebra mussels; felony pollution charge

October 3, 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.

DNR to try pesticide on zebra mussels
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will take the unusual step of treating a western Minnesota lake with a pesticide in hopes of killing a localized infestation of zebra mussels.

But the vice president of an area lakes association isn’t impressed, fearing that action is too little and too late to save the lake from the small invasive mollusks.

“For whatever reason, they want it to appear that things are under control,” said Terry Kalil, vice president of the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations. “Things are not under control. The DNR strategy is a failed one.”

She accused the agency of responding slowly to a legislative directive last spring to train water-related equipment operators about invasive species matters and of applying an “unproven” chemical that’s likely to be ineffective.

The DNR suspects that juvenile mussels found recently on a boat lift pulled from Rose Lake were brought to the lake weeks ago when the lift was installed there. Kalil said the lift came from already infested waters.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ethanol plant faces felony pollution charge
Corn Plus, a major ethanol cooperative in southern Minnesota, was charged with reporting that its pollution control equipment was working properly in late January when company officials knew it was not.

The alleged felony offense took place Jan. 27, less than a week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Corn Plus a grant of $128,658 from its Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.

The alleged offense also took place while the company was on probation for a previous environmental law violation.
Corn Plus, which produces 49 million gallons of ethanol a year 35 miles south of Mankato in Winnebago, pleaded guilty two years ago to a misdemeanor for negligently discharging polluted water into Rice Lake. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham placed the company on three years’ probation in October 2009 and ordered it to pay a $100,000 fine, plus a $50,000 “community service payment” to a critical habitat program run through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Corn Plus also paid $861,000 to settle a dispute with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last year over alleged water quality violations that took place from 2006 to 2008. It paid a $200,000 civil penalty and agreed to spend at least $691,000 on plant improvements designed to protect the environment.

According to the latest charge filed in federal court in Minneapolis, Corn Plus falsely certified that it was complying with its permit requirements knowing that its pollution control equipment was allowing excessive discharges into the air, a violation of the Clean Air Act.
–The Star Tribune

E-mails released on oil sands pipeline
With the Obama administration about to decide whether to green-light a controversial pipeline to take crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States Gulf Coast, e-mails released paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between lobbyists for the company building the billion-dollar pipeline and officials in the State Department, the agency that has final say over the pipeline.

Environmental groups said the e-mails were disturbing and evidence of “complicity” between TransCanada, the pipeline company, and American officials tasked with evaluating the pipeline’s environmental impact.

The e-mails, the second batch to be released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, show a senior State Department official at the United States Embassy in Ottawa procuring invitations to Fourth of July parties for TransCanada officials, sharing information with the company about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings and cheering on TransCanada in its quest to gain approval of the giant pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day.
–The New York Times

Think like a kindergartener; save the planet
Read Freshwater programs director Peggy Knapp’s account of helping some kindergarteners save the Earth by cleaning up leaves and organic debris that, otherwise, would go into lakes and streams. You can do similar great work – and win $500 – by entering the Work For Water challenge sponsored by Freshwater and InCommons. The entry deadline is Oct. 11.
 

Hitting the water wall
Read Jonathan Foley’s take on whether the world is running out of water. Foley, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, says it’s not the quantity of water we should be concerned about. Rather, it is all the things that humans do to water that worry him. Writing in “momentum,” the institute’s newsletter, Foley says we need to adopt a mind-set that “respects the limits and fragility of our water supply.”

Groups urge continued conservation $$
A national coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land. The coalition outlined a set of key principles that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.

The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:

• Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.
• Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.
• Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.
• Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.
• Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance.

USDA’s conservation programs are the main tools for implementing best management practices that help crop and livestock producers conserve our soil resources and avoid deposition of nutrient and sediment into our rivers and lakes. Agricultural conservation is also the primary means to protect vital habitat and endangered and threatened species on the privately held land that constitutes the majority of our nation’s land base.
–Environmental Working Group News Release

Soy growers propose subsidy, conservation cuts
With the congressional supercommittee pushing ahead with work on a plan to slash the deficit, farm groups are struggling to come up with ways to spend the farm subsidies that don’t get cut. The American Soybean Association is the latest to come forward with a proposal.

The soybean growers are calling for abolishing the existing direct payments and creating a new revenue-protection program called Risk Management for America’s Farmers. The plan is similar in principal to one proposed by the National Corn Growers Association. Payments would be triggered by losses in an individual producer’s revenue. The corn growers plan is pegged to area losses.

The soy growers’ plan also calls for abolishing the existing revenue-based subsidy program, ACRE, and SURE, the permanent disaster assistance system.

The soybean growers also are calling for making cuts in conservation programs as well as farm subsidies, but farmers are getting pushback on that idea from environmental organizations.
–The Des Moines Register

Asian carp found in Iowa lakes
State environmental officials say invasive carp species have been found in a Clay County lake.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources say bighead carp and silver carp were found in Elk Lake by commercial fisherman hired to remove rough fish, such as common carp, from the northern Iowa lake.

Officials with the DNR say the invasive fish likely traveled past barriers on the Little Sioux River and into the lake because of flooding on the Missouri River. They say the fish have invaded the Missouri River recently and likely traveled from the river into the Little Sioux and over dams that would have normally prevented their passage.

DNR personnel also caught two bighead carp in East Lake Okoboji last month while conducting routine sampling.
–Iowa DNR News Release

‘Earmark’ ban ends U.S. wolf trapping
A lack of money will end a federal program that has quietly trapped and killed thousands of wolves in northern Minnesota in the past 33 years, officials said.

The program had targeted wolves near where livestock and pets were being killed and had the approval of farmers, conservation leaders, wolf lovers, natural resource officials and politicians of both parties, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

But a moratorium on earmarks in Washington means there’s no money for the program after fiscal 2011 ended, the newspaper said.

In the past, congressional members from Minnesota and Wisconsin had routinely used earmarks get funding for the program.
“We’ve got too many wolves causing too many problems now,” Dale Lueck, treasurer of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, said.
–UPI

New York ballast water rules draw fire
New York state is poised to implement new rules that could have a major impact on the global shipping industry. Invasive species sometimes move from place to place in “ballast water” — that’s the water ships suck in and discharge to level their loads. Officials in New York want all that ballast water treated to kill any “living pollution” before it reaches their harbors. But the treatment technology is expensive and untested. Because the state serves as a gateway to the Great Lakes and ports in New Jersey, other states and countries are disputing the new rules.
–National Public Radio

Nevada groundwater pumping criticized
Every spring will run dry in the vast valley just west of Nevada’s only national park if the Southern Nevada Water Authority is allowed to pump all the groundwater it wants and pipe it to Las Vegas.

That was the dire warning delivered by an attorney for a new and perhaps unexpected voice of opposition to the pipeline project: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The aquifer will shrink. The land will subside,” said Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski , speaking on behalf of the Mormon church as a state hearing opened in Carson City on the authority’s massive pipeline plans. “You can monitor it, you can quantify it, and in the end, you can lament it. But you can’t fix it.”

The authority is seeking state permission to tap up to 126,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from Spring Valley in White Pine County and Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys in Lincoln County. Most of the water — 19 applications totaling more than 91,000 acre-feet — is being sought in Spring Valley, just west of Great Basin National Park.
–The Las Vegas Review-Journal

USGS reports groundwater use in the West 
Groundwater pumping, which has been increasing since the 1940s, now accounts for about one third of the estimated annual flow from the aquifers of the eastern Great Basin. In parts of this region, groundwater pumping exceeds the rate of natural discharge, leading to land subsidence and declines in water levels and spring flow.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently published a report examining groundwater recharge (replenishment) and discharge for the eastern Great Basin. The study examined 110,000 square miles across Utah, Nevada, California and Idaho, and the report covers groundwater conditions from Death Valley in the southwest to Cache Valley in the northeast.

“Groundwater resources are not only a critical part of present water supplies in this area, but are likely to increase in importance in the future because the region is facing population growth and limited surface water supplies,” said Kevin Dennehy, coordinator for the USGS Groundwater Resources Program.
–USGS News Release

Deloitte announces pro bono sustainability effort
Deloitte announced it is providing pro bono services to help develop a public online tool that allows companies to more easily identify and collaborate with businesses, relevant governments, Non-Governmental Organizations and communities to advance sustainable water management on a location-specific basis.

Specifically, Deloitte is teaming with the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), the Pacific Institute and the German International Development Agency (GIZ) in developing the CEO Water Mandate (which is part of the United Nations Global Compact) Water Action Hub (the Hub).

Deloitte’s contribution to IBLF, valued at up to $500,000, will allow organizations to access a publicly available online water-focused capacity building platform that can serve as a clearinghouse for emerging corporate water accounting methods, tools, and stewardship practices.

The Hub will feature a mapping function that visually places each facility and/or organizations within watershed maps to help organizations better understand stakeholders and initiatives in their watersheds of interest. Watershed maps are designed to allow companies to build upon their use of other online analytical mapping and water risk characterization tools such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD’s) Global Water Tool and the World Resource Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct project.
–PR Newswire

EPA recommends chromium tests

December 26, 2010

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

EPA suggests water systems test for ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical
The Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting that water utilities nationwide test their drinking water for hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, after an independent survey found the chemical in tap water drawn from 31 cities.

The EPA said it is issuing guidance to the utilities explaining how to test for the chemical but is not requiring tests at this time. The agency said it will also give technical help to the 31 cities identified in the survey – including Washington and Bethesda – so they can set up a monitoring and sampling procedure for hexavalent chromium, a chemical made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Testing for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is technically challenging. Many laboratories that handle standard tests for water companies are not equipped to perform the more sophisticated tests.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with 10 senators representing some of the 31 communities to discuss the findings of the survey, which was conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.

There is no federal limit for the amount of hexavalent chromium that can be in drinking water. The EPA is reviewing emerging science on the question to determine if the chemical’s presence in drinking water poses a clear threat to public health and whether a limit should be set. That work is expected to be completed by summer.

(The Environmental Working Group analysis did not sample water from any Minnesota cities.)
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin to relax ballast-water rules
Wisconsin officials announced that ballast water regulations they adopted in February are too strict and should be relaxed.

The Department of Natural Resources says the technology simply isn’t available to comply with the strict ballast-water filtration regulations developed last year and imposed by the state in February.

Instead, the DNR is proposing to scale back regulations to those suggested by the International Maritime Organization.

The current state standards require filtration or killing of organisms 100 times smaller than the IMO standards. The rule change would put Wisconsin at the same filtration regulation level as Minnesota.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Where will the next water pollution disaster hit?
When an estimated 184 million gallons (697 million liters) of industrial waste spilled into Hungary’s Marcal River in early October, arsenic and mercury threatened to taint water supplies and degrade rivers, both at the site and for hundreds of miles downstream. In some ways, Hungary’s toxic mud disaster was a wake-up call, shining a spotlight on potential water pollution hotspots around the globe.

Where might disaster strike next?

Only a tiny fraction of the ore miners exhume contains gold, copper, lead, zinc, or the other metals they’re after. The rest is waste, or tailings, full of large quantities of metals and minerals ranging from benign to very toxic. These fine-grained wastes are often held in tailings ponds that can cover many square miles.

Unfortunately the dams holding tailing ponds aren’t always examples of high-level engineering and, in some countries, may be made by simply bulldozing the tailings themselves into an embankment, explains geologist Johnnie Moore, of the University of Montana.

“There is the potential for huge amounts of [toxic waste] to move into a river system whenever any of those things break, and in fact it does happen,” he said.

(Part of a National Geographic series on global water issues.)
–National Geographic News

Beet processor to pay $50,000 in water case
American Crystal Sugar Company has agreed to a $50,000 civil penalty and promised to complete actions requested by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to settle alleged violations of state environmental protection and reporting regulations at its facility in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Some of the alleged violations occurred  in May 2009 when runoff from company land application sites entered Grand Marais creek, resulting in complaints about odors and discoloration.  This occurred after the company applied industrial by-products to farm fields at excessive levels and too close to waterways during the 2008 cropping season.  In addition, the company, once notified of the complaint, failed to take necessary actions to minimize pollution to Grand Marais Creek.  The creek is currently on the Minnesota’s list of impaired waters for high sediment and pH levels, and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

The MPCA also alleges that the company used testing results from a non-certified laboratory, failed to report all monitoring results and failed to maintain quality assurance procedures adequate to ensure compliance with testing requirements. The company also failed to adequately control vegetation in a wastewater treatment pond.

In addition to agreeing to the $50,000 civil penalty, American Crystal agreed to submit plans and update procedures to ensure future compliance. The company has already completed many of the required actions and paid the penalty.
–MPCA News Release

Outdoor Heritage fund stakeholders forum set Jan. 6
The Dedicated Fund Working Group, sponsored by the Izaak Walton League and other Minnesota conservation groups, will host a forum Jan. 6 that will examine how the state is spending new revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008.

The forum is free, but seating is limited and the organizers request pre-registration.  Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League chairs the working group.

The meeting will be held at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Park from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, one day before the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual Roundtable at the same site.

Register by emailing Noreen Tyler at ikes@minnesotaikes.org before Jan. 1 to reserve a spot. View the agenda for the forum.

About $250 million a year is being generated by the tax increase. One-third of that is designated to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. One-third is designated to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.

EPA, Texas clash over greenhouse gas limits
The feud between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency reached a new level, with federal officials saying that they will take over the granting of permits for new power plants and refineries in the state because Texas refuses to regulate its emissions of greenhouse gases.

The showdown centers on Texas’ opposition to the Obama administration’s program to rein in heat-trapping emissions, which has become a symbol of a broader struggle by industry and some Republican politicians to thwart such regulatory efforts.

Texas and several other states are fighting the mandates in court, and Republican leaders who will take over the House of Representatives next year have made no secret of their opposition, arguing that mandating cuts in industrial emissions will harm the economy.
–The New York Times

The carbon dioxide record at the heart of climate debate
MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean.

They make no noise. But once an hour, they spit out a number, and for decades, it has been rising relentlessly.

The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.

Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming.
–The New York Times

Group threatens suit over gray wolves
A wildlife conservation group put the government on notice that it would sue to restore wolves across the United States, far beyond a range now limited mostly to Alaska, the Rockies and the Great Lakes.

The move by the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Arizona, marks the latest twist in a long and heated battle over federal protections for wolf populations first established in 1978.

That fight has centered recently in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where wolves have recovered so well that Montana, Idaho and Wyoming want the Obama administration to remove them from the Endangered Species List.

Rather than remove protections, or focus on protecting them only in certain regions, the Center said it was long overdue for the federal government to develop a national plan.
–Reuters

A trout stream reborn
PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — The Rio Blanco tumbles out of a range of 12,000-foot mountains in the San Juan National Forest into a picture-perfect valley that’s reminiscent of a miniature Yosemite. In its upper reaches, the Blanco runs in a whitewater cascade, where native cutthroat trout thrive. In the valley, on the meadowland of El Rancho Pinoso, a privately owned ranch that rents out cabins and provides fly-fishing access, the water slows and deepens, providing an excellent habitat for introduced rainbows that frequently exceed 20 inches.

But it wasn’t always that way. The Rio Blanco has had a little assistance from a hydrologist named Dave Rosgen.

“When I first visited El Rancho Pinoso in 1987, it seemed like the valley was one big gravel bar,” Rosgen said. “The Blanco was anywhere from 350 to 500 feet wide and just inches deep, when the river bed should be 50 or 60 feet wide. You had a system that had no hope to be anything but a very poor fishery; with a little help, the stream could provide great fish habitat, and give visitors a chance to feel good.”

Rosgen began doing stream restoration in the late 1960s, when he worked in the  United States Forest Service. There, he witnessed the destruction of streams by the erosion resulting from clear cutting practices.
–The New York Times

Albertine Kimble – A guardian of the marshes
A daughter of Plaquemines Parish, her camouflage outfit the color of the forest, checks the oil. She checks the steering, the coolant, the gas. She makes sure that everything is tied down or stored away, so that nothing loose will fly into the fanlike propeller at the rear of her airboat.

“Maintenance,” she says. “Maintenance.”

Then off she roars, a singular woman named Albertine Marie Kimble, guiding her airboat across the grass and into the precious marsh waters, where she is most at home. An honor guard of green-winged teal ducks rises to greet her, the only resident of this southeastern Louisiana spot called Carlisle.

“Wow!” she shouts. “Whee-e-e-e!”

The BP oil spill of 2010 has come and gone, mostly. The cleanup armies have been reduced to platoons, the oil company’s public-relations blitz has lost its apologetic urgency, and you have to know where to look to find any remnants of the catastrophe. But Albertine Kimble, protector of these waters, is still here; she has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
–The New York Times

USDA seeks conservation projects to fund
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals for new conservation projects that support comprehensive efforts under way to improve the water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River from North-Central Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Mississippi River is one of America’s most valuable water resources,” said U.S. Ag Secretary Vilsack. “Through the cumulative actions of conservation-minded farmers, we can continue to provide our nation with the food, fiber and fuel we rely on, while at the same time ensuring cleaner waters than we’ve seen in decades.”

As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA is providing up to $40 million in financial assistance for new partnership projects in 43 priority watersheds in 13 states. USDA will use a competitive process to distribute the available funding through existing conservation programs such as the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.
–USDA News Release

U.S., Mexico agree to raise L. Mead’s level
The United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could raise the level of Lake Mead by about 3 feet and open the spigot on future cross-border Colorado River agreements.

Under the accord, Mexico will be allowed to store up to 260,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead while it repairs canals and pipelines damaged in a 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Mexicali on April 4.

The extra water could raise the surface of Lake Mead by 3 feet or more, enough perhaps to stave off federally mandated shortages on the Colorado River for another year. Under such a declaration, the amount of water that Nevada and Arizona could take from the system would be reduced.
–The Las Vegas Review-Journal

Chesapeake Bay coastal areas are sinking
First, the good news: Sea levels around the Chesapeake Bay are not rising as quickly as other places in the world – actually, they are moving about half as fast as the global average.

Now, the bad news: Coastal lands around the Bay are sinking more rapidly than elsewhere around the planet, especially in Hampton Roads.

It is this sinking phenomenon, called subsidence, that makes Hampton Roads one of the spots in the United States most vulnerable to rising sea levels and to events such as flooding, tidal surges and storms. Only New Orleans is more susceptible.

Such are the findings of a study released Monday by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a branch of the College of William and Mary.
–The Virginian-Pilot

Climate change and ducks; copper-nickel mining

February 8, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts 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.

Global warming bodes ill for ducks
The loss of wetlands in the prairie pothole region of central North America due to a warmer and drier climate will negatively affect millions of waterfowl that depend on the region for food, shelter and raising young, according to research published in the journal BioScience.

The new research shows that the region appears to be much more sensitive to climate warming and drying than previously thought. 

“The impact to the millions of wetlands that attract countless ducks to these breeding grounds in spring makes it difficult to imagine how to maintain today’s level of waterfowl populations in altered climate conditions,” said Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and one of the report authors. “Parents may not have time to raise their young to where they can fly because of wetlands drying up too quickly in the warming climate of the future,” he added. 

A new wetland model developed by the authors to understand the impacts of climate change on wetlands in the prairie pothole region projected major reductions in water volume, shortening of the time water remains in wetlands and changes to wetland vegetation dynamics in this 800,000-square kilometer region in the United States (North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Iowa) and Canada.
–USGS News Release 

Climatologist mostly cleared of misconduct
An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said. 

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units. 

While the Pennsylvania State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.
–The New York Times 

Copper-nickel mine draws flood of comments
More than 3,500 comments in 45 days. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has received a mini tidal wave of letters, e-mails and oral comments about a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. It’s not a surprise, since everything about the $600 million PolyMet project is big.

“This is certainly an extraordinary level of comments,” said Stuart Arkley, the project’s environmental study manager. “Normally a couple hundred might be considered a lot.” 

The comment period ended for the lengthy environmental impact study for the PolyMet mining and ore processing project near Hoyt Lakes. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal partner with the DNR in preparing the study, which began nearly four years ago.
–The Star Tribune 

Court upholds New York’s ballast rule
A New York State appeals court has dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s new ballast water requirements, intended to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. In a ruling, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the authority of states to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards. 

Ballast water is taken on by cargo ships to compensate for changes in the ship’s weight as cargo is loaded or unloaded, and as fuel and supplies are consumed. 

When a ship takes on ballast water, organisms native to that water are also taken on board. When that ballast water is discharged into another body of water, those organisms are released, often harming the native species of the new ecosystem.
–Environmental News Service

Georgia governor calls for water conservation
Georgians will be called to a new “culture of conservation” under water legislation outlined by Gov. Sonny Perdue, struggling in the twilight of his term to find a solution to the long-running water dispute with neighboring Florida and Alabama.

At a news conference, Perdue called the legislation “a diverse and comprehensive package,” and then went on to warn that it will require a brand new mindset for many Georgians:

“Where it makes sense, we’re going to ask Georgians to make commitments that we have never asked of them before, and at other points, we will launch incentive-based efforts to encourage creativity and innovation involving our very diverse bill will require efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction statewide.
–The Southern Political Report

U.S. knew of mothballed ships’ toxic threat
The U.S. Maritime Administration knew in 1997 that paint falling off its obsolete ships anchored in Suisun Bay could cause toxic pollution, yet took no action for more than a decade while denying a problem existed, according to federal documents. 

Cleanup was called “essential” in a 1997 memo that stated, “Environmental precautions must be recognized to the fullest extent.” 

“Exfoliating paint on (Maritime Administration) ships is an issue that must be addressed,” the August 1997 internal memo states. “The discharge of lead and tributyltin, commonly found in marine paints, are prohibited by federal, state and local environmental regulations … there may be some impacts on water and biotic resources.” 

But the Maritime Administration undertook no cleanup as the so-called Mothball Fleet anchored off Benicia continued to deteriorate for another decade. A 2007 study — launched after a series of articles in the Contra Costa Times that questioned the fleet’s condition — found that 21 tons of paint flakes laden with lead and other toxic metals had fallen into local waters and that 66 more tons remained on the vessels.
–The Contra Costa Times

Asian water crisis, invasives and a carp-algae link

August 31, 2009

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

Changing diet stresses Asia’s water resources
The beefed-up diets of Asia’s expanding middle class could lead to chronic food shortages for the water-stressed region, scientists said at a global water conference in Sweden.

Asia’s growing economy and appetite for meat will require a radical overhaul of farmland irrigation to feed a population expected to swell to 1.4 billion by 2050, experts warned at Stockholm’s World Water Week.

The threat was highlighted in a study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which estimate that Asian demand for food and livestock fodder will double in 40 years.

At current crop yields, East Asia would need 47 percent more irrigated farmland and to find 70 percent more water, the study found.
–National Geographic News

Seaway brings invasives to Great Lakes
The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 to great fanfare. The system of canals connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the five Great Lakes cut a lucrative international trade route through the heartland and gave the United States a refuge and staging ground for ships and submarines in case of war with the Soviet Union.

No one expected the seaway to become the key player in a different war, the invasion of non-native aquatic species into the Great Lakes, which has dramatically altered ecosystems and costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year. About a third of the 186 invasive species in the Great Lakes are thought to have entered on oceangoing ships in the ballast water they take on for stabilization when carrying little or no cargo.
–The Washington Post

Coast Guard floats ballast proposal
The U.S. Coast Guard announced a proposed regulation designed to prevent invasive species from entering U.S. waters. The rule would require ships to treat ballast water, which is pumped into tanks when leaving port and typically dumped at the incoming port, to kill microorganisms and larvae that come along for the ride. The Coast Guard says it “will work to elevate the priority” of research to figure out how effective the measure will be.

Ships are already required to exchange their ballast water at sea to get rid of any hitchhiking species, but the effectiveness varies quite a bit, depending in part on the ship’s construction. The proposed regulation will require that ships have new technology on-board—such as filtration systems—that will reduce the number of organisms released in port to a standard set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2004.

Under the proposed Coast Guard rule, new vessels launched after 2012 would need to have treatment systems that meet the IMO standard. Existing vessels will need to be retrofitted to meet that standard between 2014 and 2016, depending on the ship’s size. The cost will likely run $1.18 billion over 10 years.
–Science Magazine

Removing carp stimulated algae
Researchers experimenting with cleaning up area lakes by removing carp were thrilled this summer with their success at Chanhassen’s Lake Susan — until they began to see a surprising side-effect:

The water had become so clear that the sunlight passed through it and warmed the lake bottom, igniting an algae bloom that turned the water pea green.

When University of Minnesota researchers removed more than 3,000 carp from the lake last winter, their goal was to clean up its muddy waters. The bottom-feeding fish constantly stir up sediment by rooting through the mud looking for food.
–The Star Tribune

Environment tax revenue lags
Minnesota voters in 2008 agreed to increase the state sales tax to pay for the arts and outdoors projects.

Now the Minnesota economy is having a say on how quickly the money flows into state coffers to pay for such things.

The three-eighths of 1 percent increase to the sales tax went into effect July 1.

Minnesota Management & Budget (MMB) Department executive budget officer Mike Salzwedel on told a state House committee that the 2010 receipts are expected to be down 5 percent, or $8.7 million, from projections used during the most recent legislative session. The new revenue numbers were tabulated Aug. 10.
–St. Paul Legal Ledger

Alberta-to-Superior pipeline project begins
Construction of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline is beginning in northern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

Crews are beginning to clear land along the right-of-way. They also are stringing pipe — laying pipe along the right-of-way in anticipation of being welded and placed in trenches, according to Lorraine Grymala, community affairs manager for Enbridge Energy, which is building the pipeline.

The U.S. State Department approved the final permit needed for the company to begin building the pipeline between the oil tar sands region of Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wis.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Some ‘green’ buildings don’t deliver
The Federal Building in downtown Youngstown, Ohio, features an extensive use of natural light to illuminate offices and a white roof to reflect heat.

It has LEED certification, the country’s most recognized seal of approval for green buildings.

But the building is hardly a model of energy efficiency. According to an environmental assessment last year, it did not score high enough to qualify for the Energy Star label granted by the Environmental Protection Agency, which ranks buildings after looking at a year’s worth of utility bills.
–The New York Times

Researcher seeks living deep-sea fossil
For 33 years, Peter A. Rona has pursued an ancient, elusive animal, repeatedly plunging down more than two miles to the muddy seabed of the North Atlantic to search out, and if possible, pry loose his quarry.

Like Ahab, he has failed time and again. Despite access to the world’s best equipment for deep exploration, he has always come back empty-handed, the creature eluding his grip.

The animal is no white whale. And Dr. Rona is no unhinged Captain Ahab, but rather a distinguished oceanographer at Rutgers University. And he has now succeeded in making an intellectual splash with a new research report, written with a team of a dozen colleagues.
–The New York Times

EPA offers fellowships in water studies
The US Environmental Protection Agency, as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is offering graduate fellowships for master’s and doctoral level students in environmental fields that include “drinking water” and “water quality,” the EPA announced online.

According to the EPA, applications will be considered for interests in and investigations on the science of drinking water quality. Proposals in this topic focus on protecting drinking water sources, producing and distributing safe drinking water, managing health risks associated with exposure to waterborne contaminants, and promoting the safety and sustainability of water resources and water infrastructure.

EPA says applications also will be considered for interests in and investigations on the science of water quality. Proposals in this topic focus on assessing, protecting and restoring surface and groundwater quality, aquatic ecosystems, watershed management and source control management. Applicants to the water quality topic area must choose one of the subtopics: hydrogeology and surface water (focusing on pollution) or coastal and estuarine processes (focusing on pollution).

EPA said that, subject to availability of funding, the agency plans to award approximately 120 new fellowships by June 30, 2010. Master’s level students may receive support for a maximum of two years; doctoral students may be supported for a maximum of three years, usable over a period of four years. The fellowship program provides up to $37,000 per year of support per fellowship.

To read the full announcement, click here.
–WaterTech Online.com

MPCA gets stimulus money for planning
In an effort to improve water quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $727,600 to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  A total of $39 million will be awarded nationally to states for Water Quality Management Planning grants that will keep and create jobs to help prevent water pollution and protect human health and the environment.

“The Recovery Act investments are meeting urgent needs for economic growth and protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.  “Communities across the nation can count on green jobs to help pull them out of this downturn and ensure the long-term strength of our economy and our environment.”
–EPA News Release

Carbon-neutral desert oasis planned
The Sydney architect behind Beijing’s Water Cube has helped design what is being called the first carbon-neutral city.

Street lights triggered by pedestrian movement. Giant shade umbrellas that move with the sun. Driverless transport pods to whisk commuters around.

It could be a list of props from the Star Wars set but these unlikely gadgets will soon take their place in a real city centre, designed by the Sydney architect Chris Bosse.

Bosse and his multinational practice, LAVA, beat several hundred applicants to design the heart of the world’s first carbon-neutral, waste-free city, Masdar, in the United Arab Emirates.
–The Sydney Morning Herald

Oil slicks, estrogen in the water, and rooftop farming

June 8, 2009

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

Estrogen linked to fish kills, study suggests
Exposure to estrogen puts fish at greater risk of disease and premature death, according to a new federal study.

The U.S. Geological Survey study showed that estrogen exposure reduces a fish’s ability to produce proteins that help it ward off disease and pointed to a possible link between the occurrence of intersex fish and recent fish kills in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The report, published in the current issue of Fish & Shellfish Immunology, adds to a growing body of research pointing to problems with estrogen in the nation’s waterways.
–The New York Times

DNR investigates reported fishkill
A reported die-off of sturgeon in the Mississippi River south of Prescott, Wis., prompted an inconclusive search by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff.

DNR area fisheries supervisor Kevin Stauffer said a three-hour search by fisheries staff didn’t reveal any dead sturgeon in Pool 3, the stretch of river between Hastings and Red Wing.

Anglers reported the fishkill to the DNR, saying they had seen dead fish last weekend and the previous week.

Greg Schorn of Newport said he and another angler had seen 50 to 100 dead sturgeon, as well as several other dead species, while they were fishing Pool 3.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Oil slick covers 80 miles of Mississippi River
Crews continued to work overnight Wednesday to corral a huge oil spill on the Mississippi River that now stretches more than 80 miles below New Orleans and threatens the fragile delta ecosystem. Government officials, meanwhile, are scrambling to bolster water supplies downriver from the spill and some anticipate possibly having to truck in water.

More than 400,000 gallons of thick industrial fuel oil spilled just upriver from the Crescent City Connection in the collision early Wednesday morning between a tanker and a barge being pulled by a tugboat. The oil spill, the largest on the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area in nearly a decade, halted shipping traffic on one of the nation’s busiest waterways.

The Coast Guard, which is investigating the incident, has released few details, but confirmed that none of the tugboat’s crew had the proper licenses to operate on the river. Neither the tug operator’s name nor the name of the river pilot aboard the tanker has been released.
–NOLA.com

Vermont cows do their thing to curb global warming
Chewing her cud on a recent sunny morning, Libby, a 1,400-pound Holstein, paused to do her part in the battle against global warming, emitting a fragrant burp.

Libby, age 6, and the 74 other dairy cows on Guy Choiniere’s farm here are at the heart of an experiment to determine whether a change in diet will help them belch less methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that has been linked to climate change.

Since January, cows at 15 farms across Vermont have had their grain feed adjusted to include more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed — substances that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat.
–The New York Times

New mining development in northern Minnesota poses environmental risk
The fears about copper-nickel mining start with sulfuric rock the metals are found in. When exposed to the air, these rocks can leech caustic pollutants like acid and metals.

Just west of Duluth, the St. Louis River spills through rocky channels on a final plunge to Lake Superior. Retired biology teacher Len Anderson said, not only is this area beautiful, it’s key for the Lake Superior fishery.

“It also is the nursery for many of the fish that inhabit Lake Superior,” Anderson said. “You know, over 100 river miles away from PolyMet, but this is where, I believe, the critical issue is going to come to a head.”

The issue, he said, is methyl mercury – mercury in a form that can harm fish as well as the people and animals that eat the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio News

L.A. restricts lawn sprinkling to two days a week
It’s now illegal to water lawns in the nation’s second-largest city except on Mondays and Thursdays as Southern California deals with the effects of drought and regulatory restrictions on its distant water supplies.

The city is facing its third consecutive year of water supply shortages, according to the city Department of Water and Power, and the new sprinkler ordinance is accompanied by a pocketbook incentive for conservation.

The amount of water customers can purchase at the lowest price, known as Tier 1, will now be reduced by 15 percent. Customers who do not achieve a 15 percent reduction in usage will be charged at a higher rate for every gallon above their Tier 1 allotment.
–The Associated Press

A rooftop garden grows in Milwaukee
A year ago, Erik Lindberg rented a boom lift with a bucket and hoisted 15 cubic yards of dirt to the roof of his north side remodeling business. In the process, he planted himself firmly in the middle of a growing urban agriculture movement.

Lindberg, owner of Community Building & Restoration, turned to rooftop gardening in the belief that his actions might encourage people to grow their own food or buy locally grown produce.

And by selling the vegetables he grows to subscribers and a nearby Outpost Natural Foods store, he may have become Milwaukee’s first commercial rooftop farmer.

“It’s an experiment,” said Lindberg, 42. “Can you develop a business plan out of something like this? The answer is, I don’t know yet.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Three-quarters of Texas county homes at risk from climate change
A new study suggests more than 100,000 households will be displaced and more than $12 billion infrastructure losses suffered as a result of climate change raising the sea level in the Galveston area over the next 100 years.

The finding comes three days after a Texas A&M University study found that Corpus Christi’s infrastructure will also be affected by climate change.

“The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region,” commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and the British Consulate-General Houston, estimates that 78 percent of households will be displaced in Galveston County. A more aggressive sea level rise could displace 93 percent of households, according to the study.
–Houston Business Journal

Federal charges filed in Louisiana wastewater case
Louisiana Land and Water Co. owner Jeff Pruett was arrested by federal marshals after being indicted on 17 felony counts of violating federal pollution laws.

Pruett is president and chief executive officer of Louisiana Land & Water Co., the principal officer of LWC Management Co. and operates more than 30 water and wastewater treatment systems in northeastern Louisiana.

The charges involve violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act — commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act — at more than a half-dozen of the systems owned or operated by Pruett.
–The News Star

Invasive species legislation runs into a roadblock: pet owners
Water managers dispatched two experts to Washington recently to back a bill targeting an Everglades problem that seems to get bigger every year. The latest, largest evidence emerged in mid-May: a Burmese python stretching 16½ feet.

It is the longest yet of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the exotic constrictors the South Florida Water Management District has pulled off its lands and levees in the past few years. More sobering: The female was pregnant, carrying a clutch of 59 eggs — more proof the giant snakes are breeding in the wild.

“These are not little snakes running around. These are massive, dangerous animals,” said district spokesman Randy Smith.
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

U.S. restricts California water use to protect salmon
Federal regulators levied sweeping new rules on Delta water deliveries to prevent the thirst of California’s farms and cities from rendering extinct several salmon runs, steelhead, green sturgeon and a Pacific Northwest population of killer whales.

The suite of regulations would ensure more cold water is available for spawning fish, and that water operators make it easier for fish to swim from upstream spawning grounds through San Francisco Bay and back again.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated the new regulations would cut water supplies from the Delta beginning next year by about 5 percent to 7 percent, or roughly 330,000 acre-feet a year, enough water for a city of about 2 million people. Most of the water loss is due to measures to help steelhead migrate down the San Joaquin River, officials said.

The hit to Delta water supplies comes on top of rules put in place in December to prevent Delta pumps from driving another fish, Delta smelt, to extinction.
–San Jose Mercury News

Lawmakers seek restrictions on oil drilling tactic
U.S. lawmakers expect to introduce legislation that would reverse a Bush era law exempting a controversial drilling practice from federal oversight, possibly driving up costs and curtailing the development of vast amounts of unconventional energy.

Democratic Representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maurice Hinchey of New York plan a bill that would repeal a measure in a 2005 law that excluded the method of hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“This is a very serious issue. If it is not addressed, large numbers of people are very likely to suffer,” Hinchey told Reuters. “Their water will be contaminated. Their houses will no longer be livable.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to force out oil and natural gas. The practice is used to stimulate production in old wells, but is now also used to tap oil and gas trapped in shale beds across North America.
–Reuters

Wisconsin ballast water rules delayed
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matt Frank says shipping industry concerns about technology are holding up a state plan to make oceangoing Great Lakes ships clean-up their ballast water.

Fishing groups and environmentalists are urging the DNR to finish work on a proposed permit plan aimed at stopping ships with contaminated ballast water from using Wisconsin ports. The Great Lakes ships that come from other nations are thought to bring in invasive species.  Frank says his agency still plans to move ahead with the  permit. But he says some shipping companies say the clean-up technology isn’t quite ready.

Frank says he’s pleased that New York’s ballast water rules were recently upheld, but adds the best thing would be if the federal government passed tougher ballast water requirements. He says the DNR will make a decision sometime this year.
–Wisconsin Public Radio

China reports water pollution reduction
China cut its water pollution and emissions of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide last year as it stepped up efforts to make its economic growth cleaner, state media said.

Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, dropped by 4.42 percent in 2008 from a year earlier, while sulphur dioxide emissions were down 5.95 percent, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China has promised to cut the two key pollution measures by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, and is also looking to reduce its energy intensity, or the amount of energy used to create each unit of gross domestic product.
–Reuters

Vacant homes pose mosquito risk
Neglected and foreclosed, abandoned homes add one more obstacle to control mosquitoes, said Clark County Health Department official Doug Bentfield.



Though numbers are sporadic, the number of abandoned properties that need to be sprayed with chemicals to kill the bug’s larvae have increased, he said.



“This is costing the county money,” Bentfield said.



Most problems arise when owners leave items that collect water outside such as pools, bird baths and old tires. Even the children’s pools become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes if neglected.
–The News and Tribune

IBM researching better arsenic filter
Many people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. In places including Bangladesh, millions must drink water containing arsenic, which can cause neurological problems, organ failure, and death. Making robust water filters that can remove salt and arsenic without requiring a lot of energy has been a challenge. Researchers at IBM are developing a material used to make computer chips for more-efficient removal of salt and toxic chemicals from drinking water.

Polymer-membrane water filters have been in use since the 1970s “with no big materials innovation in a long time,” says Robert Allen, senior manager of chemistry at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, CA. There are problems with traditional membrane filters. The chlorine used to kill pathogens in water degrades them. They’re susceptible to fouling, or clogging up, when the water forced through them in a desalination process called reverse osmosis contains oil or proteins.

The IBM researchers have made a new membrane material that resists these problems while also screening out arsenic.
–MIT Technology Review

World water supply, invasive weeds and PFCs

March 16, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

UN report: World’s water in peril
Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, according to a landmark UN report.

Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.
–AFP news service

Judge narrows PFC lawsuit against 3M
An enormous lawsuit over water is getting smaller.
In a ruling, a judge limited a lawsuit charging that chemicals manufactured by the 3M Co. polluted water and hurt Washington County homeowners.

Washington County District Judge Mary Hannon ruled the chemicals — PFCs, or perfluorochemicals — found in drinking water cannot legally be considered a “nuisance.” She said the term defines something that impairs the use or enjoyment of someone’s property and that homeowners’ inconveniences, such as having to buy a $30 filtration system, were relatively minor.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin considers state rules on ballast water
Wisconsin is poised to become the next Great Lakes state with its own rules for ballast water in ships, and critics say it could kill the overseas shipping business.

Ballast water is blamed for carrying harmful plants or animals from overseas into the Great Lakes. Minnesota and Michigan recently adopted ballast permit regulations. But some worry that Wisconsin’s new proposal is too tough.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wisconsin DNR fights manure pollution
Steve Haak and the Sugar River go way back.

Now 46, Haak was only 8 when he caught his first fish from the river where it ran near the family’s farm south of Paoli. He was with his grandfather and caught the 18-inch brown trout on a cane pole.

“From then on, I was pretty much hooked,” said Haak, who now farms just down the road from the farm on which he grew up.
–Wisconsin State Journal

Lake or wetlands: Which will get the mine waste?
Sitting like a turquoise gem in a bowl of hemlock, Sitka spruce and ice, Berners Bay has long been a jewel of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Berners Bay also has become one of the epicenters of a new Alaska gold rush. High in the snowy peaks at the top of the bay, miners struck an estimated 1.4 million ounces of gold — a prize that is looking better every day as investors flee the stock market.
–Los Angeles Times

Invasive weed seeds found in Baltimore harbor
An inspection aboard a Turkish freighter at one of the city’s ports by agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency revealed the presence of cogon grass weed seed, an invasive seed from Asia that quickly spreads and disrupts ecosystems, reduces wildlife habitat and decreases tree seeding growth, said a spokesman for the agency.

Steve Sapp, the spokesman, said the pest-like seed, known as Red Baron grass after the World War I German fighter ace, was found during a routine inspection littered among wood packing in a container of tile from Turkey. Sapp said the seed is considered one of the 10 worst invasive plant species in the world and is listed as a federal noxious weed.
–The Baltimore Sun

Cost, politics complicate water’s future
Anyone who has visited Disneyland recently and taken a sip from a drinking fountain there may have unknowingly sampled a taste of the future — a small quantity of water that once flowed through a sewer.

Orange County Water District officials say that’s a good thing — the result of a successful, year-old project to purify wastewater and pump it into the ground to help restore depleted aquifers that provide most of the local water supply.
–Reuters

Natural resource spending up in Obama budget
After years of flat or declining funding, natural resource agencies expect to see a significant boost in the 2010 budget along with a leftward shift in policies and priorities.

Beyond the increased funds for many Interior Department agencies, the budget proposal as President Obama has outlined thus far focuses on acquiring more public land, addressing climate change issues and raising fees on the oil and gas industry.
–The New York Times

Texas groundwater districts controversial
For Parker County resident Kathy Chruscielski, moving to the
country a decade ago seemed like the best of both worlds. She fell in love with the scenic rolling hills of Remuda Ranch Estates, a few miles west of the Tarrant County line.

“We have these beautiful hills, yet we can be in Fort Worth within a matter of minutes,” Chruscielski said. “It’s like having one foot in the country and one in the city.”

She learned that it has its downside.

In January 2002, Chruscielski was forced to drill a new well after her old one went dry.

“They told us when we bought this place that groundwater levels had remained the same for the last 40 years,” Chruscielski said with a rueful laugh. “Then I learned differently.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Climate change pushes search for water in the West
It’s hard to visualize a water crisis while driving the lush boulevards of Los Angeles, golfing Arizona’s green fairways or watching dancing Las Vegas fountains leap more than 20 stories high.

So look Down Under. A decade into its worst drought in a hundred years Australia is a lesson of what the American West could become.
–Reuters

EPA plans greenhouse gas registry
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to establish a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.

The registry plan would cover about 13,000 facilities that account for 85 to 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas output. It was drafted under the Bush administration but stalled after the Office of Management and Budget objected to it because the EPA based the rule on its powers under the Clean Air Act.
–The Washington Post

Many think media exaggerate climate change
More Americans are skeptical about the seriousness of global warming than ever before, according to a survey released by the Gallup organization.

A record 41 percent now say news coverage of global warming is exaggerated, while 57 percent say coverage is generally on the mark or underestimated. As recently as 2006, Gallup found that 30 percent viewed news coverage of global warming as exaggerated vs. 66 who did not.
–Star Tribune

IBM wants to help manage water
IBM Corp. wants to get really deep into water.

The technology company is launching a new line of water services, hoping to tap a new sales vein by taking the manual labor out of fighting pollution and managing water supplies. IBM says the overall water-management services market could be worth $20 billion in five years.
–The Associated Press

Transmission line gets mixed reviews
The Great Plains have been called “the Saudi Arabia of wind energy.” But because the windiest areas tend to be sparsely populated, much of that wind power might go unused without a way to move the energy to where the people are.

Now a Michigan company is proposing to build a 765-kilovolt transmission line called “The Green Power Express” from the gusty Dakotas through Minnesota to Chicago. The 3,000-mile project, which is estimated to cost $10 billion to $12 billion, could be among the first of a new generation of energy superhighways that help the Midwest feed the nation’s appetite for renewable energy.
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

Chicago pushes homeowners to accept water meters
Some Chicagoans with homes built before the mid-1970s could get city water meters installed free with a guarantee their bills won’t rise beyond regular rate increases for seven years.

The offer was approved by a City Council committee as part of a $15 million test program called MeterSave.
–The Chicago Tribune

Suffolk County, NY, fights nitrate pollution
More than 300 landscapers crammed into a stuffy lower-level room at the Holiday Inn here recently, listening to the whys and wherefores of the new laws for keeping lawns green in Suffolk County while minimizing nitrogen pollution.

Suffolk, which has a long history of environmental regulation, is laying down the law as never before about nitrogen, a principal ingredient in the lawn fertilizers used by landscapers and homeowners but also a worsening threat to groundwater.
–The New York Times

Invasives drill may cause Superior harbor to blush
A shipping company and the National Park Service are getting together to find an effective way to kill invasive species in a ship’s ballast tanks under emergency conditions. As ships can run aground or have accidents, the question is how to best handle a high-risk ship from a high-risk port that might be carrying invasive species.

The experiment may leave the Superior Harbor a bit on the pink side. The plan is to inject a red dye into six ballast tanks in an American Steamship Company vessel in a lower Great Lakes port. Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green says they’ll use harmless rhodamine dye instead of chemicals designed to sterilize ballast tanks.
–Wisconsin Public Radio/Superior Telegram

Acidification of oceans affects tiny organisms
There’s now a good piece of direct evidence that the increasing acidification of the oceans, brought on by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is affecting the ability of small marine organisms to create shells.

The evidence comes from foraminifera, crunchy plankton that float by the untold billions in the ocean.
–The New York Times

EPA reviewing ethanol and climate change
For years, ethanol has been touted as a solution to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the EPA is looking at whether ethanol lives up to that reputation.

If the agency decides against ethanol, the ruling could have a major impact on tens of thousands of people in rural Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA sued over phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set more protective pollution standards for Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries.

The suit, filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Save Our Creeks, Inc., argues that nutrient pollution in the lake has caused toxic algae blooms, which can contaminate drinking water supplies and sicken people and animals.
–Environment News Service

Kinder, gentler wildlife biologists
You may remember Senator John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. And you may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies.

The answer is hair. The study, which Mr. McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park.
–The New York Times

Court sides with Colorado on fees in water suit
The Supreme Court has rejected claims by Kansas that it is owed $9 million in legal fees from Colorado over their century-long dispute over water rights to the Arkansas River.

In an opinion, the court is upholding a ruling by a special master appointed to oversee the case that the fees for expert witnesses should be about $163,000, not the $9 million sought by Kansas.
–The Associated Press