Posts Tagged ‘biofuels’

Your input is sought on Minnesota environment

November 6, 2012

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

Have your say on water and environmental issues
What do clean water, the economy, energy and the health of our environment all have in common? These topics will be discussed by Minnesotans this month and next at six Citizen Forums around the state.

The forums, free and open to the public, will give Minnesotans an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. State leaders will consider the citizen input next March at a Minnesota Environmental Congress summit, where they will begin to plan a blueprint for Minnesota’s environmental and economic future.

For more information visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. The Minnesota Environmental Congress and the Citizens Forums leading up to it are the result of an executive order issued by Gov. Mark Dayton last year.

To assess Minnesota’s progress toward clean air, water and energy, the Environmental Quality Board is convening the Citizen Forums around the state to engage citizens in constructive dialogue, identify environmental challenges and define a vision for Minnesota’s environmental future.

Here are the locations, dates and times for the six regional Citizens Forums:

• Rochester: Nov. 27, 9:30 a.m. – noon at Wood Lake Meeting Center.

• Bloomington: Nov. 27, 6:30 – 9 p.m. at Normandale Community College.

• Duluth: Nov. 28, 5:30 – 8  p.m. at Lake Superior College.

• Worthington: Dec. 10, 3:30 – 6 p.m. at Worthington High School.

• St. Cloud: Dec. 12, 5:30 – 8 p.m. at Stearns County Service Center.

• Moorhead: Dec. 14, 3 – 5:30 p.m. at Minnesota State University.

For more information about the Citizens Forums and to indicate your intention to attend, visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. If you have questions, call Anna Sherman at 651-201-6607 or email
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

KARE11 series reports on threats to water
View a series of stories – “Project H2O” – that KARE 11-TV broadcast on Nov. 1:

A geological primer on what’s going on beneath us
Have you ever wondered what’s in the soil and rocks deep beneath your feet? Have you worried that something being put on the land or done to the land will pollute the groundwater beneath it?

The Minnesota Geological Survey has just published a guide to Minnesota geology and groundwater that will answer some of your questions.

The publication, written with a goal of avoiding technical jargon, is intended to explain to local officials, land use managers and planners how the Geological Survey’s county geologic atlases are produced and how they can be used for planning  that protects groundwater. More broadly, the  publication — titled Geologic Atlas User’s Guide: Using Geologic Maps and Databases for Resource Management and Planning  — is a primer on what’s going on in the basement of this house in which we all live.

Report examines nitrogen BMP decision
Read a new report on how and why farmers in two Minnesota watersheds make decisions about the nitrogen fertilizer they apply to their crops.

The report, funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was written by University of Minnesota forest resources professor Mae Davenport and a graduate student, Bjorn Olson.

It was based on in-depth interviews with 30 farmers in the Rush River watershed in Le Sueur and Nicollet counties and the Elm Creek watershed in Martin and Jackson counties. The report is titled  “Nitrogen Use and Determinants of Best Management Practices: A Study of Rush River and Elm Creek Agricultural Producers.”

Northshore Mining fined for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined Northshore Mining Co. in Silver Bay $242,973 for spraying 39,200 gallons of hazardous waste onto its property and improperly sending an equal amount to a nearby water treatment plant. It is the fourth time since September 2010 that the taconite company has been fined for violating Minnesota pollution laws.

The agency found that Northshore Mining sprayed a “corrosive hazardous waste leachate” over its coal-ash landfill to control dust. An additional 38,900 gallons of the leachate were delivered to an authorized wastewater treatment plant in Duluth over the course of two days in 2011, but the quantity exceeded permitted levels. The company failed to immediately report the violations and failed to properly monitor high pH levels in the leachate, the agency said.
–The Star Tribune

Algae no energy panacea, report says 
Biofuels made from algae, promoted by President Barack Obama as a possible way to help wean Americans off foreign oil, cannot be made now on a large scale without using unsustainable amounts of energy, water and fertilizer, the U.S. National Research Council reported.

“Faced with today’s technology, to scale up any more is going to put really big demands on … not only energy input, but water, land and the nutrients you need, like carbon dioxide, nitrate and phosphate,” said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, a microbial physiologist who headed the committee that wrote the report.

Hunter-Cevera stressed that this is not a definitive rejection of algal biofuels, but a recognition that they may not be ready to supply even 5 percent, or approximately 10.3 billion gallons (39 billion liters), of U.S. transportation fuel needs. “Algal biofuels is still a teenager that needs to be developed and nurtured,” she said.

Biofuel plant called invasive threat 
A plant being eyed as a renewable fuel source has a dark side, choking native plants, clogging rivers and streams and draining wetlands, U.S. scientists say.

Giant reed, also known as arundo donax, is a fast-growing hardy grass species found throughout Texas and the southern United States the U.S. government is considering as a renewable fuel source. Its often unruly behavior has some scientists and environmentalists arguing the ecological and economic risks are greater than the possible benefit.

They say they want the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a nearly finalized rule that would encourage farmers to grow giant reed and other invasive grasses for biofuels production.

Water takes 12.6% of U.S. energy
A new report by a team of University of Texas at Austin researchers shows that the energy needed to capture, move, treat and prepare water in 2010 required 12.6 percent of nation’s total annual energy consumption, which is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of roughly 40 million Americans.

“Evaluating the Energy Consumed for Water Use in the United States” is the first report of its kind to quantify baseline water-related energy consumption across the U.S. water system. The report, published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, gives industry leaders, investors, analysts, policymakers and planners the information they need to make informed decisions, and could help the nation achieve its water and energy security goals, a news release stated.

“Energy and water security are achievable, and with careful planning, we can greatly reduce the amount of water used to produce energy, and the amount of energy used to provide and use water,” said Michael E. Webber, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who directed the research project. “In particular, our report shows that because there is so much energy embedded in water, saving water might be a cost-effective way to save energy.”
–Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews


Drainage, percholate and climate change

August 10, 2009

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

Drainage technique could cut farm runoff

A big contributor to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” is farmland runoff, but a new approach to farmland drainage may help reduce its size.

The problem starts when farm runoff, containing a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, makes its way to the Mississippi River. When the water reaches the Gulf, the nutrients promote massive algae blooms that consume oxygen when they die.

 As a result, the water can no longer sustain life. A recent report by a team of researchers says the dead zone is about 3,000 square miles.

 One part of the solution to the dead zone could be a box-like structure found on the farm of Brian Hicks, near Tracy, in southwest Minnesota.

–Minnesota Public Radio

 EPA to review percholate contamination

Fulfilling a confirmation pledge, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa P. Jackson is revisiting the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate rocket fuel pollution in the nation’s drinking water.

Jackson’s move is being welcomed by the environmental community and children’s health advocates. Perchlorate, a major component of rocket and missile propellants and many explosives, is a potent thyroid toxin known to disrupt brain and neurological development. For that reason, scientists and medical experts strongly urge that fetal and neonatal exposures to the chemical be prevented.

 Defense and aerospace contractors are certain to fight any federal effort to order up perchlorate clean-ups, whose costs could run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. During the Cold War, tons of improperly stored rocket fuel seeped into ground waters around rocket and missile test sites and chemical manufacturing and storage facilities.

–Environmental Working Group

 Climate change dramatically shrinks glaciers

A report on long-term glacier measurements released by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar shows that glaciers are dramatically changing in mass, length and thickness as a result of climate change. Over the past 50 years, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have monitored the melting of Alaska’s Gulkana and Wolverine Glaciers and Washington’s South Cascade Glacier, yielding the longest such records in North America.

 “This report we are releasing today is great example of the science and data our Department has gathered over the past 50 years,” said Secretary Salazar.  “This information is helpful in tackling the effects of climate change and it is exactly the kind of science we need to invest in to measure and mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change.”

 Glacier shrinkage has global impacts, including sea level rise that threatens low-lying and coastal communities. Smaller glaciers will also result in a decrease of water runoff, and impacts are especially important during the dry late summer when other water sources are limited.

 “There is no doubt that most mountain glaciers are shrinking worldwide in response to a warming climate. Measuring changes in glacier mass provides direct insight to the link between glaciers and climate, ultimately helping predict glacier response to anticipated climate conditions,” said USGS scientist Edward Josberger.

–USGS news release

Food-processing waste taints Michigan water

John Dekker feels like he’s camping out in his own home. He showers with bottled water and drags his laundry to a Laundromat. He can’t sell his house without disclosing its glaring flaw — his well is contaminated.

 Neighbor Kari Craton’s fingernails turned orange; her appliances were destroyed. Diana Bennett’s garden is useless.

 Some 50 families live near a plume of groundwater contaminated with metals that spread from the local Birds Eye processing plant. At a nearby Minute Maid juice plant, there’s another plume.

In rural west Michigan, food processors have sprayed so much wastewater onto fields that heavy metals seeped into groundwater, contaminating wells. State officials have known of the polluting for at least a decade but, residents complain, moved slowly.

The Detroit Free Press 

Duck resurgence yields 60-day season

With continental populations of many species of ducks again near record highs, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has established a 60-day duck season that opens Oct. 3 with a daily bag limit of six ducks.                  

Bag limits for most species will be the same as last season, except hunters will be able to harvest one canvasback and the scaup limit will be two for the entire 60-day season. This good news for diver duck hunters is based on increased numbers of canvasbacks and scaup in the continental breeding duck survey. 

Based on an increase in breeding waterfowl populations and pond numbers across Canada and the northern plains, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering states in the Mississippi Flyway, including Minnesota, a 60-day season that could include a six-duck limit with two hen mallards and three wood ducks. Minnesota will continue with a daily bag limit of one hen mallard that has been in place since 2005. Likewise, the DNR is maintaining a conservative approach to wood ducks by maintaining a two-bird limit.

–Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 

California studies 35-mile water tunnel

California officials are studying whether a 35-mile tunnel under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta might help solve some of the state’s water supply problems.

 Teresa Engstrom, chief of the delta engineering branch at the California Department of Water Resources, confirmed that the agency is conducting feasibility studies on an “all tunnel” option that would route water under the Bay Delta from rivers and reservoirs to the north of Sacramento to farms in the south.

 The idea to build a tunnel sprang from a handful of public workshops the department held recently on how to approach California’s long-running fight over water rights in the northern part of the state.

–The New York Times

 Pollution comes cheap in China

In addition to its cheap labor costs, China has another comparative advantage as the world’s factory: Companies often pay almost nothing to pollute China’s air, water and soil and to poison its people.

Need pliant workers to handle toxic chemicals? Wages are just $2.60 a day. What if the chemicals contaminate a town? Compensating a family of five costs just $732. Local water supply contamination makes 4,000 people vomit? That’s just $7 per household. Cost of bribing local Chinese officials to look the other way rather than adhering to safety standards? Well, that’s unknown, but given the frequency of China’s pollution atrocities, apparently it is cost-effective.


 UM researcher Tillman writes on biofuels

“Done right,” biofuels can be produced in large quantities and have multiple benefits, but only if they come from feedstocks produced with low life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, as well as minimal competition with food production. This consensus emerges in a new journal article by researchers from the University of Minnesota, Princeton, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley.  

“The world needs to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent findings have thrown the emerging biofuels industry into a quandary. We met to seek solutions,” said the U of M’s David Tilman, a noted ecologist and lead author of the paper. “We found that the next generation of biofuels can be highly beneficial if produced properly.”  

The article, “Beneficial Biofuels—The Food, Energy and Environment Trilemma,” appears in the July 17 issue of Science. Tilman, a resident fellow of the U of M’s Institute on the Environment, said the paper resulted from a year of conversations and debate among some of the nation’s leading biofuel experts.

–University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment 

Wild rice harvest opens Aug. 15

People who have purchased a wild rice license can begin harvesting on Saturday, Aug. 15.

 “Harvesters need to carefully check wild rice stands for ripeness prior to attempting harvest,” said Ray Norrgard, who oversees wild rice management for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources .It is illegal to harvest wild rice that is not ripe.

 This year’s ricing season opens 30 days later than previous years, but the change is expected to have little effect on actual harvesting, which tends to occur after Aug. 15.

Several popular wild rice harvesting waters will be closed to harvest until posted open. Approximately 48 hours before harvest opens on any of these water bodies, the opening date will be posted near access points listed on the DNR Web site and available from the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

–Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

 California prepares for climate change

Along with California’s efforts to crack down on its own greenhouse gas emissions, state officials have begun preparing for the worst: heat waves, a rising sea level, flooding, wildlife die-offs and other expected consequences from what scientists predict will be a dramatic temperature increase by the end of this century.

California’s Natural Resources Agency on Monday issued the nation’s first statewide plan to “adapt” to climate change.

 It offers strategies to cope with threats in seven sectors from firefighting to public health and water conservation. Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman called the plan an effort to acknowledge the problem and suggested that Californians “recognize their role in solving that problem and alter their behavior so that the change lasts.”

–The Los Angeles Times 

Fertility decline reverses

For decades, the rate at which women were having babies in many of the world’s most highly developed countries slowly declined. 

While the trend cheered some environmentalists worried about overpopulation, it stoked increasing concern among policymakers, demographers and social scientists about the long-term impact on societies as their populations aged and sometimes began to shrink. 

Now, however, new research has produced the first glimmer of hope that economic prosperity may not be linked to an inexorable decline in fertility. The new analysis has found that in many countries, once a nation achieves an especially high level of development, women appear to start having more babies again.

–The Washington Post 

Washington County wildlife sanctuary OK’d

A rare slice of metro area wilderness will be saved and opened to the public through a state land trust program.

The Washington County Board granted the Trust for Public Land and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approval to acquire 120 acres of Denmark Township property southwest of Afton at its July 28 meeting. The property will be preserved as a wildlife sanctuary and become part of a growing network of public open space in southern Washington County.

Peggy Booth, a unit supervisor for the DNR Scientific and Natural Areas Department, told the board the land will be designated for passive recreation and observation. It is one of four scientific and natural areas in Washington County.

“It will be protected by state law because of its rare resources,” she said.

The area is located in bedrock bluff prairie west of St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and south of 90th Street. It is home to unique plant species and a wide range of birds, including the endangered Henslow sparrow.

The property will connect to the existing 200-acre Lost Valley Scientific and Natural Area.

–The Forest Lake Press

 Some golf courses lead the way to conservation

Six years ago, when Georgia’s state government rewrote its rules for water use during droughts, it cut no slack for an obvious culprit: golf courses.

 With emerald fairways that glistened even in the most blistering conditions, they were a tempting target.

 Yet golf course managers were indignant. They argued that they were reining in water use in dozens of ways, like planting native grasses and auditing sprinkler spray patterns. Instead of being penalized, they said, they should be emulated.

It took a while, but from the South to the arid West, their wish is coming true. Mindful that global warming could provoke more and longer dry spells, state governments are increasingly consulting golf courses on water strategies.

–The New York Times