Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Arctic sea ice hits new low

August 29, 2012

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record, a confirmation of the drastic warming in the region and a likely harbinger of larger changes to come.

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is only slightly below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, a government-sponsored research agency in Boulder, Colo., announced the findings in collaboration with NASA. The amount of sea ice in the summer has declined more than 40 percent since satellite tracking began in the late 1970s, a trend that most scientists believe is primarily a consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.

“It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated,” said Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University scientist who studies the effect of sea ice on weather patterns. “It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth.”
–The New York Times  

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How hot was July? Hotter than in ’36

August 9, 2012

July in the U.S. was the hottest month ever in records going back to 1895. And the 12-month period ending in July also was the warmest. Read a New York Times article on the records and the causes. According to scientists quoted by the Times, the drought afflicting most of the country reduced soil moisture, leading to higher daytime temperatures in July. The higher nighttime lows most of the country experienced are part of a long-term trend.

Ex-skeptic further supports climate change

July 31, 2012

Richard A. Muller, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist, used to be a prominent scientific skeptic on climate change. Last year, he concluded global warming is real. Now, read a New York Times op-ed in which Muller goes further and says he’s convinced “humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Precision conservation talks archived

April 11, 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.

David Mulla

David Mulla

Precision conservation talks archived
Did you miss the March 29 Freshwater Society conference on precision conservation? If you did, you missed some really exciting presentations on some of the most exciting strategies for targeting conservation and pollution-prevention practices to the places on the land where they will do the most good. But all the presentations are archived on video on the Freshwater website.Here’s the link to the lead presentation by University of Minnesota Professor David Mulla.

Report: States fail to plan for climate challenges to water 
Only nine states have taken comprehensive steps to address their vulnerabilities to the water-related impacts of climate change, while 29 states are unprepared for growing water threats to their economies and public health, according to a first ever detailed state-by-state analysis of water readiness released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report ranks all 50 states on their climate preparedness planning, and is accompanied by an interactive online map at  showing the threats every state faces from climate change.

The new NRDC report, “Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning,” outlines four preparedness categories to differentiate between the nine best-prepared and most engaged states with comprehensive adaptation plans (including California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), from those states that are least prepared and lagging farthest behind (including Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas).

“Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events are impacting our families, our health and our pocketbooks. Water is a matter of survival. It powers our lives and industries, and it keeps our natural systems healthy,” said NRDC Water & Climate Program director Steve Fleischli. “This report is both a wake-up call and a roadmap for all communities to understand how vital it is to prepare for climate change so we can effectively safeguard our most valuable resources. Preparing for the impacts of a changing climate requires that states confront reality, and prioritize climate change adaptation to reduce local water risks and create healthier communities.”

Read what the report had to say about Minnesota.
–Natural Resources Defense Council news release

Research: U.S. rivers lower in sediment 
Almost all the sediment-associated chemical concentrations found in 131 of the nation’s rivers that drain to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts are lower than worldwide averages, according to a new study by the USGS. These coastal rivers are a significant pathway for the delivery of sediment-associated chemicals to the world’s coastal zones and oceans.

“I hope that the results of this new study will remind everyone that it is not only river water that can transport chemicals and pollutants, but also the associated sediment load,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Our citizens expect high environmental quality as compared with worldwide averages, but clean water alone will not suffice if river sediments are host to toxic heavy metals and concentrated organics that can produce dead zones.”

Though overall levels are better than worldwide averages, about half the rivers draining to the Atlantic Ocean have elevated concentrations of nutrients and trace and major elements in their sediment. About a quarter of the rivers draining to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico also have elevated levels.
–USGS News Release

144 Asian carp netted in two Iowa lakes
A commercial fishing company caught 55 silver carp and 82 big head carp on March 28 and 29, fishing in the same general area of East Okoboji Lake where two big head carp were netted by the Iowa DNR last August during a population survey.

On April 3, one silver carp was caught by the same commercial angler in Spirit Lake. A second netting effort on April 4 in the same East Okoboji Lake location resulted in only two bighead carp and two silver carp.

Mike Hawkins, fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the invasive fish had a small window last summer in which to enter the Iowa Great Lakes. Flood events in June and July allowed the fish to navigate the Little Sioux River past the Linn Grove Dam, landing at the doorstep of the Iowa Great Lakes.

Once below the Iowa Great Lakes, heavy rain events in July caused flooding conditions on the lakes that allowed these fish to enter Lower Gar Lake, which is the final lake in the chain of six glacial lakes in Dickinson County.

“While it confirms the presence of both species, this commercial seine haul does not tell us how many Asian carp are in the lakes. Nor does it get us any closer to knowing at what level these fish will be a problem,” Hawkins said.
–Iowa DNR News Release

Federal ballast water rules target invasives 
Nearly a quarter-century has passed since an oceangoing ship from Europe docked somewhere in the Great Lakes and discharged ballast water carrying tiny but tenacious zebra mussel larvae from Europe.

Within a few years after they turned up in Lake St. Clair, between Lakes Huron and Erie, the small freshwater mussels and their larger and even more destructive cousins, quagga mussels, had coated lakebeds throughout the region, clogging intake valves and pipes at power, water treatment and manufacturing plants.

The filter-feeding mussels have since helped to upend the ecosystems of the Great Lakes, fouling beaches, promoting the growth of poisonous algae and decimating some native fish populations by eating the microscopic free-floating plant cells on which their food web depends.
–The New York Times

Spawning steelhead get lift from DNR 
In an unprecedented move because of low water levels, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials began transporting steelhead from the Knife River fish trap upstream past the Second Falls on the Knife River to assist the fish on their spawning migrations.

The fish are being transported about 5½ miles in tanks on trucks.

“We were urged strongly to do this by the Lake Superior Steelhead Association,” said Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor at French River. The steelhead association advocates for steelhead, or rainbow trout, that live in Lake Superior and migrate up North Shore streams each spring to spawn.

With low water flows this year, it’s more difficult for fish to clear the falls as they move upstream. The DNR would continue to move steelhead only if flows remain low, Schreiner said.
–The Duluth News Tribune

World food demand strains energy, water 
The northern region of Gujarat State in western India is semi-arid and prone to droughts, receiving almost all of its rain during the monsoon season between June and September.

But for the past three decades, many crop and dairy farms have remained green—even during the dry season.

That’s because farmers have invested in wells and pumps, using massive amounts of electricity to extract water from deep aquifers. The government has artificially propped up the agricultural sector through power subsidies and price supports.

The pumping hasn’t occurred without dire environmental impacts. Groundwater tables have fallen precipitously, 600 feet below the ground in some places, requiring even more powerful pumps to bring water to the surface. Over-consumption has taxed the power grid, constraining the electricity available for others.
–National Geographic

Navajo, Hopi may face choice on water rights
Arizona’s two senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, traveled to the Navajo reservation meet with Navajo and Hopi tribal leaders about a proposed water rights accord that would settle the two tribes’ claims to the Little Colorado River system.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. McCain have introduced a bill known as the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement, which would require the tribes to waive their water rights for “time immemorial” in exchange for groundwater delivery projects to three remote communities.

The tribes must sign off on the settlement, along with 30 other entities including Congress and the president, before the bill becomes law.
–The New York Times

Minnesota, Mississippi TMDL comment extended 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has extended the public comment periods for reports about water quality in the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Due to a high level of interest, the public comment period has been extended to May 29, 2012, for the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) draft reports about Minnesota River turbidity and South Metro Mississippi River total suspended solids.

The comment period for the reports began Feb. 27 with a notice in the State Register.

The TMDL reports focus on turbid water caused primarily by sediment. Turbidity is caused by suspended and dissolved matter, such as clay, silt, organic matter, and algae. High turbidity results in poor water quality for aquatic habitat, recreation, industrial use, and human consumption.

The two documents are available for public review and comment on the MPCA’s TMDL Projects and Staff Contacts webpage.
–MPCA News Release

$5.2 million slated for water protection
Reducing phosphorus in lakes, protecting water resources, and addressing failing septic systems are among the projects funded by $5.2 million in financial aid recently approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. As funded by the Clean Water Partnership (CWP) program, 10 agency partners across Minnesota will receive grants and/or loans to investigate pollutants in lakes and rivers and take action to protect waters from those pollutants. View the projects.
–MPCA News Release

Invasive species decal required for boaters
A new required decal is now available for Minnesota boaters to help remind them of the state’s aquatic invasive species laws, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced.

The free decals are available at:

  •  DNR offices.
  •  Deputy registrar offices where licenses are sold.
  •    Large sporting goods shops.
  •  DNR watercraft inspectors and conservation officers.

The decals will also be included in envelopes with new and renewal watercraft licenses mailed from the DNR. The decal should be attached to all types of watercraft including canoes, kayaks and duckboats before launching on, entering into, or operating on any Minnesota waters.

The two-piece, gray-and-black decals detail new state laws that watercraft users must follow in order to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.
 –DNR News Release

Maryland eyes banning arsenic in chicken feed
The state Senate signed off on a bill to ban chicken feed containing arsenic, bringing Maryland a step closer to being the first state to prohibit the additive.

The chamber approved a version of the measure 32-14, sending it back to the House of Delegates for final authorization.

The bill bans the use of roxarsone, a chemical used to help the birds grow and fight parasites. Supporters of the legislation say the arsenic additive contaminates chicken meat and waste, polluting soil and the Chesapeake Bay.

But opponents say the legislation isn’t necessary because Pfizer Inc., the company that makes roxarsone, voluntarily suspended the sale of the chemical.
–The Associated Press

Lubber lecture, conservation conference set

February 21, 2012

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

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

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber

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

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

Lubber, a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will speak at 7 p.m.  in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Dave White, NRCS chief

Dave White

And on March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a conference on precision conservation.

Precision conservation is the science and philosophy of placing conservation practices at spots on the landscape where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improving water quality and soil loss is disproportionately great.

Dave White, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will deliver the luncheon keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.

Peter Gleick admits deceit in climate leak
A prominent environmental researcher, activist and blogger from California admitted that he had deceitfully obtained and distributed confidential internal materials from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group based in Chicago devoted in part to questioning the reality of global warming.

Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, wrote in a statement published on The Huffington Post that he had posed as someone else to get the materials, which include fund-raising and strategy documents intended only for the board and top executives of the group.

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial.

The document release, which lit up the Internet, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute’s efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. The Institute asserted that document, which is in a different format and type style from the rest of the Heartland materials, was a fake, but implicitly acknowledged that others were legitimate and vowed to legally pursue those who stole and published them.

In his statement, Dr. Gleick said he had received the dubious strategy paper anonymously in the mail this year. He said he did not know the source of the document but said he tried to confirm the validity of the document because the disclosures in them would serve to undercut the institute’s mission.

“In an effort to do so,” he wrote, “and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”
–The New York Times

Pricing alternative zebra mussel strategies 
There’s one way to slow – really slow – the spread of invasive zebra mussels in their steady campaign to populate all of Minnesota’s waters.

The simple plan, which some have off-handedly suggested: require boat inspections at every launch. Cost: $2,300 per boat owner, on average.

Oh. Guess that won’t happen.  That sobering price tag is one of several such figures contained in a new Department of Natural Resources report examining what it would actually cost to combat the little enemy mollusks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Snuffbox mussel is endangered 
 A small mussel that’s found in the St. Croix River and few other places has been declared endangered by the federal government.

The snuffbox mussel has disappeared from 62 percent of the streams where it was historically found. The survival of this native mussel — which can live for decades — is threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, due in part to pollution and sedimentation. Non-native zebra mussels are also a threat.

The National Park Service is raising snuffbox mussels and releasing them in the gorge area of Mississippi River Pool 2 in St. Paul, where water conditions have improved in recent years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama proposes cut in EPA aid to states
 President Obama proposed a fiscal year 2013 budget containing $8.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $105 million decrease from fiscal 2012 achieved through cuts to state wastewater treatment and drinking water funds.

The proposed 1.2 percent decrease in EPA funding would mostly come from reduced funding for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, which provide capitalization grants to states for loans for water infrastructure. The president’s budget also would reduce funding for superfund cleanup efforts and eliminate a clean diesel grant program and replace it with a combination of rebates and grants. The budget proposal contains increased funding for priority programs, including a large increase for state and tribal air quality and water pollution programs.

While overall assistance to states would decline, EPA’s operating budget would increase under the budget proposal from $3.57 billion in fiscal 2012 to $3.74 billion in fiscal 2013. The proposal would increase funding for targeted water infrastructure and Chesapeake Bay restoration, while maintaining funding levels for leaking underground storage tanks programs and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
–Bloomberg

Bill seeks further permitting changes 
A House committee approved a bill to streamline the environmental review and permitting process. The bill picks up where last year’s streamlining law left off. It would allow project proposers to hire a consultant who can actually draft permits, a job currently in the hands of the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

But Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the state still would have final authority. “No matter what you do in regards to filing your application, the PCA and DNR still have to approve,” Fabian said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Texas research downplays ‘fracking’ threat 
The concern that hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas is contaminating groundwater is overstated, claims a new report.

Researchers reviewing the available data in the US found nothing to suggest “fracking” had a unique problem. Rather, they suggest the contamination events that do arise are just as likely to afflict other types of oil and gas drilling operations.

The claims were made at the annual AAAS conference in Vancouver, Canada. Charles “Chip” Groat, associate director of Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, led the study. “The bottom line conclusion of our study is that in the states we investigated, we found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself, the practice of fracturing the rocks, had contaminated shallow groundwater,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.
–BBC News

Taconite plant to pay air pollution penalty
Northshore Mining Co. has agreed to pay a $240,175 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) for air-quality violations that the MPCA says occurred at the company’s taconite-processing plant in Silver Bay. The violations were for emissions of excessive amounts of very fine dust that is unhealthy to breathe. Northshore is also taking steps to prevent future violations, including emission-control improvements at its large taconite pellet storage yard.

Between November 2010 and May 2011, ambient air quality monitors located between the taconite pellet storage yard and the Silver Bay marina measured violations of permit limits for particulate matter, or dust, smaller than 10 microns (PM10) in width, or about one-fourth the diameter of a human hair. Dust deposits were also documented at the Silver Bay marina. PM10-size dust is one of the federal and state governments’ health-based standards that help determine the levels where exposure can compromise human health.
–MPCA News Release

Sustainability pioneer sentenced to prison
A pioneer of the sustainable business movement, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with asbestos-related deaths at his former company, Eternit AG.

A court in Turin, Italy, ruled that Schmidheiny and lead Eternit shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier were partially responsible for hundreds of deaths and illnesses caused by asbestos in Eternit factories. They were also sentenced to pay damages, which reportedly could reach past 250 million euros ($330 million), to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.

Schmidheiny announced in 1978 that Eternit would stop making products with asbestos, when he became president of its board of directors. Half of production was asbestos-free by 1984, and the company last used asbestos minerals a decade later, according to Eternit AG’s website. The company closed its Italian facilities in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos.

Schmidheiny is also the founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides a forum for 200 member companies with combined revenue of more than $7 trillion “to develop innovative tools that change the status quo,” according to the website of the Geneva-based group. He founded the council after Maurice Strong, then secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, appointed Schmidheiny as his principal advisor on business and industry “to represent the voice of business” at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
–Bloomburg

China faces water quality, quantity woes
China faces a tougher situation in water resources in the future as demand increases amid the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization, an official said at a press conference. Hu Siyi, vice minister of water resources, said water shortages, serious river pollution and the deteriorating aquatic ecology are “quite outstanding” and may threaten the country’s sustainable growth. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China now consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources, Hu said.

“Because of the grave situation, we must put in place the strictest water resources management system,” he said. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the average per capita of water resources is only 2,100 cubic meters annually, or about 28 percent of the world’s average level.
–ChinaDaily

Asian carp DNA found upstream of dam

December 12, 2011

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

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Asian carp DNA found north of Coon Rapids Dam
The latest round of eDNA testing for Asian carp in the Mississippi River has yielded unexpected results, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources .

Nineteen of the 48 water tests near the Coon Rapids Dam have tested positive for silver carp DNA, and three of the positive results are from above the dam. The highly sensitive tests are designed to detect DNA in the environment that comes from the mucus or excrement of invasive Asian carp. Although testing was done to detect DNA of two Asian carp species – bighead and silver – all positive results were for the leaping silver carp.

The Coon Rapids Dam, located upstream of the river’s lock and dam system, has been a significant fish barrier since it was upgraded in the 1970s, preventing a number of native species such as white bass from migrating upstream. DNR fisheries biologists are surprised by the positive eDNA results.

“We are investigating the likelihood of false positives or other sources of Asian carp DNA in the river,” said Tim Schlagenhaft, Mississippi River manager for the DNR. “A study being done in the Chicago area is providing insight into other potential sources of Asian carp DNA, where they have also been getting positive eDNA samples but have been unable to document the presence of live fish. The results of that study will help determine other potential sources of DNA in our waters. Until we can prove the DNA is from other sources, the risk is too high to assume live fish are not present.”

In recent years, the dam’s effectiveness as a fish barrier has figured prominently in the DNR’s strategy for keeping invasive Asian carp out of the Mississippi River north of the Twin Cities. The dam is about to undergo $16 million in repairs and upgrades in an effort to further improve its effectiveness as an Asian carp barrier. DNR officials said the improvements are still necessary to slow the upstream spread of Asian carp in the Mississippi River.

“The positive test results don’t change the fundamental goal of the state’s Asian carp action plan,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We must research and implement our available options to prevent or slow the movement of Asian carp upstream in our river systems, and to manage and control their populations should they become established.”
–DNR News Release

Barriers won’t stop carp, researcher says
 Physical barriers will not be effective enough to stop invasive species from damaging Minnesota waters, according to a University of Minnesota researcher.

The Coon Rapids Dam had previously been thought to be an effective barrier against Asian carp, but the Department of Natural Resources announced that it had found e-DNA evidence of the silver carp in the Mississippi River above the dam.

Peter Sorensen has studied carp for years, and helped design an acoustic-bubble carp barrier at his lab at the U of M. The fish have probably been upstream of the dam for 10 years, Sorensen said. “I think we’ve just lost the first battle,” he said. “The silver carp are here, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Climate talks yield modest agreement
After 72 hours of continuous wrangling, the 17th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change wrapped up with modest accomplishments: the promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.

The deal on a future treaty renews the Kyoto Protocol, the fraying 1997 emissions agreement that sets different terms for advanced and developing countries, for several more years. But it also begins a process for replacing the Kyoto agreement with something that treats all countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — equally.

The deal on a future treaty was the most highly contested element of a package of agreements that emerged from the extended talks among 200 nations here.
–The New York Times

EPA links ‘fracking’ to contamination 
For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as “fracking.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study tying the technique, formally called hydraulic fracturing, to high levels of chemicals found in ground water in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo.

EPA scientists found high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and synthetic glycol and alcohol, commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

The gas industry and other experts have long contended that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water. The EPA’s findings provide the first official confirmation to the contrary.

In hydraulic fracturing, companies inject chemicals deep underground at high pressure to blast fractures in formations to make the gas flow faster.
–National Public Radio

USDA pledges $50 million for the Gulf
 The federal government committed $50 million to jump start a sweeping new road map for restoring the Gulf of Mexico after decades of environmental abuse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pledged the money to reduce runoff, improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat on agricultural lands in seven river basins that drain into the Gulf, including the San Antonio River in Texas.

“This initiative will be a powerful demonstration that the Gulf of Mexico strategy will not be another report on a shelf,” said Harris Sherman, undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the Agriculture Department.
–The Houston Chronicle

Comment sought on Lake St. Croix plan 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for the portion of the St. Croix River known as Lake St. Croix. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Loa study, focuses on pollution caused by excess phosphorus.

The public comment period for the TMDL begins Dec. 12 and continues through Jan. 11, 2012.

Lake St. Croix is a natural lake in the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River. Its watershed is about 7,760 square miles with 44 percent of that area located within Minnesota and the rest within Wisconsin.

The lake is a highly valued resource that provides exceptional recreational opportunities and supports a highly diverse ecology of aquatic and terrestrial species. However, over the years algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water have occurred due to excess phosphorus loading. This affects fish and other aquatic life and diminishes the enjoyment and use of the lake.

The findings in the report are largely based on the results of past lake and nutrient loading studies. To meet water quality standards, the phosphorus load will need to be reduced by 122 metric tons per year. Reductions will need to come from various sources, including runoff from agricultural and urban lands and discharges from wastewater-treatment facilities.

The draft report may be viewed on the Lake St. Croix TMDL webpage. For more information, or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155; email chris.zadak@state.mn.us; phone 651-757-2837.
–MPCA News Release

Wisconsin GOP unveils mining bill 
Assembly Republicans finally released a draft of a bill designed to streamline Wisconsin’s mining regulations, introducing language that calls for state regulators to make a permit decision within a year and severely limits environmentalists’ ability to challenge it.

The bill is designed to jump-start Florida-based Gogebic Taconite’s plans to mine iron ore in the Penokee Hills, just south of Lake Superior. The measure will almost certainly undergo multiple changes — Republicans in the state Senate are calling it a starting point — but it’s already triggered one of the fiercest environmental debates the state has seen in years.

Republicans insist the mine will create thousands of good-paying jobs that will last for generations. Minority Democrats and conservationists say the job figures are exaggerated and fear pollution from the mine will ruin one of the most pristine regions in the state.
–The Associated Press

Wisconsin experiences sand mining boom 
 A controversial natural gas mining technique called “fracking” is creating a boom in Wisconsin sand mines with more than 20 new mines proposed, including some as large as 500 acres or more.

While the mines bring jobs, they also bring dust, traffic and other problems the state Department of Natural Resources and local governments aren’t prepared to deal with, residents and government officials said at a recent conference on “frac sands.”

“The state is woefully unprepared for this,” said state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma. “We’re regulating sand mines like we regulate gravel pits. There is a big difference between a one-acre gravel pit and a 900-acre sand mine.”

While sand companies and others tout the economic benefits of the mines, the boom has left some families and the rural towns in which they live dealing with changed landscapes, blowing silica dust, around-the-clock noise and glaring lights, heavy truck traffic and water pollution.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

Algae plague Lake Erie 
As the general manager of a marina in Ottawa County’s Catawba Island Township, Jack Madison saw a recurring theme during last summer’s algae outbreak along the Lake Erie shore.

“Mothers kept their kids [and people kept their dogs] out of the water … It is important that people don’t view Lake Erie as a place to stay away from,” said Mr. Madison, one of dozens to hear testimony and react in a standing-room-only hearing from scientists, environmental advocates and state officials.

The hearing at the Lake Erie Islands Regional Welcome Center on St. Rte. 53 was assembled by members of the Ohio House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to address the harmful algae blooms that plagued Western Lake Erie late last summer and how to best combat them in the future. Speakers gave their testimony to the committee surrounded by the center’s large replica of the Marblehead Lighthouse, mounted walleye and brochures for the area’s fishing, camping and boating attractions.

There have been annual outbreaks of algae in Lake Erie’s western basin since 1995, however, last summer’s outbreak was especially acute. Legislators vowed to take action by springtime to help avoid an escalating problem next year.
–The Toledo Blade

Human effect of 3M pollution easing 
The 3M cleanup is working. Levels of a chemical pollutant found in some Washington County residents are dropping, following a seven-year, $50 million effort by 3M Co.

A study by the state Department of Health found that the amount of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, has dropped between 13 percent and 26 percent. In a conference call, Dr. Jessica Nelson, bio-monitoring program coordinator for the department, called the study “good news.”

The study measured the amount of PFCs in 164 people in 2008, then checked the same individuals last year. The sampled adults live in Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove, where drinking water contains traces of PFCs.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Air pollution angers Chinese
The statement posted online along with a photograph of central Beijing muffled in a miasma of brown haze did not mince words: “The end of the world is imminent.”

The ceaseless churning of factories and automobile engines in and around Beijing has led to this: hundreds of flights canceled since Sunday because of smog, stores sold out of face masks, and many Chinese complaining on the Internet that officials are failing to level with them about air quality or make any improvements to the environment.

Chronic pollution in Beijing, temporarily scrubbed clean for the 2008 Summer Olympics, has made people angry for a long time, but the disruptions it causes to daily life are now raising questions about the economic cost, and the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the population.
–The New York Times

Beer, Asian carp, manganese and nutria

November 29, 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.

Want a beer with that climate talk?
Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, will give a free public lecture — “Weather vs. Climate: A Minnesota Perspective” – Wednesday, Dec. 8, as part of  a new science happy hour series from the university’s  National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.

The happy hour lecture series is called “A SIP OF SCIENCE.”   It will be held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St. at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

 The series — free and open to the public – combines food, beer and learning in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications and its fascinations.

Seeley will touch on such questions as: Are summers in Minnesota really getting more hot and humid? Are we experiencing more frequent thunderstorms than we used to? If so, what does it all mean? How do we put our day-to-day weather experiences into the context of a changing Minnesota Climate?

U.N. climate negotiators gather in Cancun
To hear climate change negotiators describe it, this week’s U.N. global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, is shaping up like a confab of homebuilders.

 Delegates say they are “laying foundations,” setting up “frameworks” and installing the “building blocks” for a future treaty.

They might also need a bomb shelter. Analysts say a blast is ready to detonate, and it’s called the Kyoto Protocol.

 “It is one of those issues that could blow up in a toxic way,” one British climate diplomat told ClimateWire.

 As negotiators from 192 countries descend on the Latin American city, best known for its sandy, white beaches and spring break nightlife, many delegates still carry the bitterness of last year’s contentious climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the same time, participants insist, they spent much of 2010 trying to repair the rifts and are ready to get to work.
–The New York Times

 Manganese rule relaxation rejected
Minnesota will keep, for now, an existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Health was proposing to weaken the rule, but reversed course after receiving public comments.

 One of those comments came from Paula Maccabee at the environmental group Water Legacy.

“We’re very pleased that the Minnesota Health Department has listened to Water Legacy and other citizens of Minnesota, and is keeping in place Minnesota rules that protect children and elderly persons,” Maccabe said. “We think that’s a very positive step.”

 About 30 individuals and public interest groups protested, pointing to a health effects study published in September.

 At small dose, manganese is good for us, but in larger amounts it can harm the nervous system. The Health Department was planning to adopt a looser federal standard, until it could study the problem thoroughly.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Coming to a fur coat near you: Invasive nutria
What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. In New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.

 Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

 A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
–Audubon Magazine

 Invasive medusahead grass threatens rangeland
Burmese pythons in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, feral pigs and other mammals in Hawaii: These are just a few of the dozens of stories about animals introduced — accidentally or deliberately — in the U.S. that have ended up playing havoc on regional ecologies and economies.

But invasive species also extend to plant life. Residents of the South are well acquainted with kudzu, the fast-growing and disruptive vine originally intended as livestock feed and for erosion control. Purple loosestrife arrived in New England back in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, but now threatens to clog and dry out great areas of America’s wetlands — while reportedly costing communities across the country about $45 million a year in control efforts.

Here’s yet another invasive plant species, and a particularly nasty one, to add to the list: Medusahead, aka medusa’s head. It’s a Mediterranean grass accidentally brought to the Western U.S. in the 1880s. Researchers at Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service have a new report warning that Medusahead is threatening to crowd out native grasslands in the West — to the detriment of both wildlife and livestock.
–Daily Finance

Asian carp heads back to Asia
An Illinois fish processor is sending 44,000 pounds of Asian carp back to Asia as food. A small startup in Pearl, Ill., the Big River Fish Company is just one group that sees Asian carp not as a voracious, invasive species, but as a business opportunity.

 Asian carp can be huge — up to 100 pounds — and they have been feasting on native fish in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Originally introduced to the United States in the 1970s to eat algae, the carp now threaten the Great Lakes.

But those attempting to market the fish say the tasty white meat is destined for culinary greatness, and some fishermen see the carp as the next frontier in commercial fish production.
–National Public Radio

Putting the (farmed) perch back in fish fries
Three Milwaukee entrepreneurs have launched an experiment in an abandoned crane factory to try to reestablish a fish native to Lake Michigan: perch. The fish was once a stable of the traditional Friday fish fry. But in the 1980s, the perch population in Lake Michigan plunged and by 1996 commercial fishing was banned.
–National Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Drinking water emergency called in California town
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of percchlorate,  a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism. 

According to the governor’s declaration, more than 40,000 customers were without their normal supply of drinking water, and several restaurants, hotels and other businesses had to close because of the contamination.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Invasive lionfish threatened Florida ecosystem
Crawling through turquoise murk on the ocean floor near Tea Table Key, Rob Pillus glances at a half dozen lobsters that twirl their antennae in the fast-moving current. Mr. Pillus, an avid spear fisherman, would normally stuff the crustaceans into his mesh bag for dinner, but today he is after more exotic quarry: an invasive species called the lionfish that threatens to wreak havoc on this ecologically sensitive marine system.

 Within a few minutes Mr. Pillus spots a lionfish and its extravagant zebra-striped fins on a bridge pylon. He steadies his homemade spear and skewers the fish, slicing off its venomous fins before putting it in his bag. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up and keeps moving.
–The New York Times

 Rep. McCollum calls for triclosan ban
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and two congressional colleagues are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps, shampoos, household cleaners and even such products as socks and toys. They’ve asked for a full review of triclosan to be submitted to Congress by April. The co-sponsors are Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that for years the scientific community has expressed concern over triclosan contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.”

“Bacteria – bugs around us – are actually quite smart, and exposing them to antibacterials or antimicrobial chemicals helps to make them smarter. So putting an antibacterial or antimicrobial like Triclosan out there in the environment and our waterways unnecessarily is just not a good idea at all.”
–public news service

Comments sought on Lake Vermillion park plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine state parks to attend one of two open houses in December to comment on the parks’ draft master plan.

 The draft master plan, which covers both state parks, includes statements about the types of activities (e.g., hiking, camping, boating) that will be offered, how natural and cultural resources will be protected and interpreted, and suggested locations for major facilities within the parks.

The open houses will be: 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m., Silverwood Regional Park, 2500 W. County Road E., Fridley.
  • Thursday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tower Civic Center, 402 Pine St., Tower.

 For an electronic copy of the plan, more information, and a public input questionnaire about the parks’ draft master plan, call the DNR at  651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
–DNR News Release

Water security as a national and global issue
The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a new and interesting fact sheet on the importance fresh water plays in national and global security.

 It describes how conflicts over water can occur and can be exacerbated by population increase and economic growth.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 

Farm tiling called major cause of hypoxia

October 12, 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.

Tile drainage main cause of hypoxia, research says
Tile drainage in the Mississippi Basin is one of the great advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, allowing highly productive agriculture in what was once land too wet to farm. In fact, installation of new tile systems continues every year, because it leads to increased crop yields. But a recent study shows that the most heavily tile-drained areas of North America are also the largest contributing source of nitrate to the Gulf of Mexico, leading to seasonal hypoxia. In the summer of 2010 this dead zone in the Gulf spanned over 7,000 square miles. 

Scientists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University compiled information on each county in the Mississippi River basin including crop acreage and yields, fertilizer inputs, atmospheric deposition, number of people, and livestock to calculate all nitrogen inputs and outputs from 1997 to 2006. For 153 watersheds in the basin, they also used measurements of nitrate concentration and flow in streams, which allowed them to develop a statistical model that explained 83 percent of the variation in springtime nitrate flow in the monitored streams. The greatest nitrate loss to streams corresponded to the highly productive, tile-drained cornbelt from southwest Minnesota across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. 

This area of the basin has extensive row cropping of fertilized corn and soybeans, a flat landscape with tile drainage, and channelized ditches and streams to facilitate drainage. 

“Farmers are not to blame,” said University of Illinois researcher Mark David. “They are using the same amount of nitrogen as they were 30 years ago and getting much higher corn yields, but we have created a very leaky agricultural system. This allows nitrate to move quickly from fields into ditches and on to the Gulf of Mexico. We need policies that reward farmers to help correct the problem.” 

The research is published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality published by the American Society of Agronomists.
–Science Daily

 Ethanol plants violate air, water rules
The rush to produce more ethanol and strengthen Minnesota’s farm economy has come with an environmental price for communities hosting the huge plants.

 Five ethanol facilities have been cited in the past 12 months for widespread air and water quality violations. They have paid more than $2.8 million in penalties and corrective actions. Alarmed state pollution control officials are scrambling to help operators understand and comply with laws.

In the most recent penalty, Buffalo Lake Energy in Fairmont will pay $285,000. It’s a new plant that began production in June 2008 with a wastewater treatment system not permitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp czar talks about battle plan
In an interview with National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel, John Goss, the Obama administration’s “Asian carp czar,” outlined his game plan for keeping the invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. One long-term solution might be a poison that would kill the carp, but not harm humans or other animals.

Scientists may experiment with toxins or genetic engineering, hoping they could alter the carp’s digestive system and/or reproductive system, Goss said.
–National Public Radio

Health Dept. warns consumers on water treatment sales
The Minnesota Department of Health is reminding Minnesota residents to beware of false claims, deceptive sales pitches, and scare tactics being used by some water treatment companies to sell expensive and unnecessary water treatment systems. High profile investigations of groundwater contamination in Washington County and elsewhere in the state have resulted in a noticeable increase in the number of complaints regarding such deceptive sales activities.

In some of the worst instances, the salesperson has implied or said that he is working with the city’s water utility or the state health department. In most cases, the systems are being sold for thousands of dollars more than they would cost if bought through a reputable water treatment company.

Even legitimate water treatment systems can be very expensive and if poorly operated or maintained may have limited effectiveness and, in some cases, make the water quality worse.

If you use city water, it should be safe to drink.
–Minnesota Health Department News Release

 Legislators eye lake development rules
Confusion over regulations critical to lakefront development has led two state senators to consider legislative changes to how Minnesota manages one of its most precious natural resources. 

Court decisions have become so convoluted that laws may need to be fixed, said state Sens. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, and Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. “I have to ask if we’re being fair to Minnesotans,” Olson said. “The court decisions are very lacking in uniformity.”

 As a result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling, city residents are now forbidden from getting a zoning variance if they still have any “reasonable” existing use for their land. But for those living in unincorporated areas, the same Supreme Court all but guarantees the ability to win a variance. Mix in spotty enforcement with local politics and the result, elected officials, civil servants, landholders and advocates agree, is a morass.
–The Star Tribune 

Zebra  mussels found in Gull Lake
Zebra mussels have invaded Gull Lake, one of the Brainerd area’s more popular lakes.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Dan Swanson, Department of Natural Resources invasive species specialist. “It’s a premier lake, used by a lot of people for fishing, boating, swimming and other recreation.”

The infestation is a blow to the Brainerd Lakes area and Gull Lake residents, who have tried to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. The impact to infested lakes varies, but the mussels filter vast amounts of water, which can affect water clarity, vegetation growth and thus possibly fisheries. 

“What will happen is unpredictable,” Swanson said.

 The discovery underscores the likelihood that zebra mussels will continue to spread throughout Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, despite efforts to educate boaters to drain their bilges and livewells when leaving lakes. In the past two years, the tiny mussels have been found in some of the state’s bigger and more heavily used lakes, including Mille Lacs, Minnetonka, Prior and Le Homme Dieu, and in parts of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Zumbro rivers.
–The Star Tribune

 State land purchases are controversial
Some northern Minnesota counties worry they’re losing their taxable lands. The state already owns millions of acres that counties can’t tax.

 Now, flush with cash from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the state is buying up even more land.

 County leaders say it could squeeze their ability to provide services to residents.

 About 30 miles northwest of Bemidji, there’s a small, shallow lake that’s home to loons, eagles and a handful of cabin-dwellers. 

Balm Lake also has a mile-long stretch of undeveloped shoreline, and the DNR wants to buy it. The agency wants to purchase more than 150 acres to protect the sensitive lake from further development.

The DNR would use money from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was established after Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. 

Last month, Beltrami County leaders objected to the purchase because it removes land from their tax base.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Water Resources Conference set Oct. 19-20
Civil and environmental engineering solutions to wastewater issues, surface water contaminants and aquatic management will be among the topics of the Oct. 19-20 Minnesota Water Resources Conference.

 The conference is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center and College of Continuing Education at the Saint Paul RiverCentre, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul.

 Larry B. Barber, a chief geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Central Region Office in Boulder, Colo., will kick off the conference with a talk on the “Effect of Biologically Active Consumer Product Chemicals on Aquatic Ecosystems” at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.

 Conference topics include emerging contaminants in lakes, rivers and groundwater; technologies such as Minnesota’s Light Detection and Ranging high-resolution mapping project; and best practices in the design and application of filtration, drainage and wastewater systems. 

For registration details, visit wrc.umn.edu or call (612) 625-2900.
–University of Minnesota News Release

 Pollution leaching from old Hubbard County landfill
Under a benign-looking lush green hill in Hubbard County lurks a growing toxic concern.

The 9-acre former Pickett Landfill, which borders the Heartland Trail and is west of County Road 4, is about to become a household word once again. It now is a massive area of groundwater contamination that stretches from 204th Street on the north, then south and east of Ferndale Loop. It once held 93,269 cubic yards of municipal solid waste.

 It opened in 1973 and closed in 1987. Since then state pollution control officials have been monitoring the site for methane gas migration and ground water quality.

 Now, leaching chemicals have reached the point of concentration where public notification is necessary and mandated by law.

Those notices will go out to affected property owners soon.
–The Park Rapids Enterprise

 Climate:  No progress since Copenhagen
With wounds still raw from the chaotic United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December, negotiators are making final preparations for next month’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in a surly mood and with little hope for progress.

 There is no chance of completing a binding global treaty to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases, few if any heads of state are planning to attend, and there are no major new initiatives on the agenda.

 Copenhagen was crippled by an excess of expectation. Cancún is suffering from the opposite.

 Delegates in Tianjin, China, at the last formal meeting before the Cancún conference opens Nov. 29, are hung up over the same issues that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen meeting. Even some of the baby steps in the weak agreement that emerged from last year’s meeting, a slender document known as the Copenhagen Accord, have been reopened, to the dismay of officials who thought they had been settled.
–The New York Times

 Swackhamer to lecture on water
Nationally recognized freshwater expert and environmental chemist Deborah Swackhamer will deliver the University of Minnesota’s annual Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4. The lecture will be at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium, 301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.

 Swackhamer’s lecture, “Drop by Drop: Everyday Solutions to Toxic Water,” will address the threats facing our freshwater resources and the achievements we’ve made in turning the tide toward sustainability.

From the loss of natural buffers and filters such as wetlands, to the introduction of endocrines and industry and consumer-induced toxins, the planet’s rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater reserves are under increasing stress. The good news is that concern for our finite water supply is beginning to take center stage in town halls and legislative chambers. Swackhamer will also offer an update on Minnesota’s 25-year plan for a sustainable water future.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Higher rivers suggest global warming
Rainfall is intensifying, rivers are rising and water flow into the ocean is increasing rapidly, a new UC Irvine study shows — a possible “warning sign” of higher sea levels and global warming.

 Satellite and surface measurements over 13 years revealed an 18 percent increase in the flow of water from rivers and melting polar ice sheets into the world’s oceans, according to the study, likely one of the first of its kind, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “Those are all key indications of what we call water-cycle acceleration,” said Jay Famiglietti, a UC Irvine Earth System Science professor and lead investigator on the study. “That is a very important and anticipated outcome of climate change.”

 Planetary warming includes higher ocean temperatures, which increase evaporation; higher air temperatures drive more evaporation as well, Famiglietti said.

 That means more fuel for monsoons, hurricanes and storms over land.
–The Orange County Register

 White House to get solar panels
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans to install solar panels on the White House roof, kicking off a three-day federal symposium focused on targeting sustainability efforts throughout the federal government.

 “Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu told an audience of federal employees. “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.” 

The Department of Energy aims to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater by the end of next spring as part of a demonstration project showcasing the availability and reliability of the country’s solar technologies. In a press release, DOE officials emphasized the growing industry and the availability of tax credits for those who install panels.

The news comes less than a month after environmentalist Bill McKibben led a rally demanding that President Obama install solar panels and presenting White House officials with a solar panel from former President Carter’s White House.
–The New York Times

 Research: Genetically modified corn benefits non-GMO crop
Transgenic corn’s resistance to pests has benefitted even non-transgenic corn, a new study led by scientists from the University of Minnesota shows.

The study, published in the Oct. 8 edition of the journal Science, found that widespread planting of genetically modified Bt corn throughout the Upper Midwest has suppressed populations of the European corn borer, historically one of corn’s primary pests. This areawide suppression has dramatically reduced the estimated $1 billion in annual losses caused by the European corn borer, even on non-genetically modified corn. Bt corn, introduced in 1996, is so named because it has been bred to produce a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills insect pests.

Corn borer moths cannot distinguish between Bt and non-Bt corn, so females lay eggs in both kinds of fields, said the study’s chief author, University of Minnesota entomology professor William Hutchison. Once eggs hatch in Bt corn, young borer larvae feed and die within 24 to 48 hours. Because it is effective at controlling corn borers and other pests, Bt corn has been adopted on about 63 percent of all U.S. corn acres.
-University of Minnesota News Release

L.A. archdiocese pursues sustainability
God created earth and said, “Let there be light.”

 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles created an enviro-friendly committee that says, let’s make sure that light comes from energy-efficient bulbs.

 Hoping to lead its 5 million parishioners toward conservation, the archdiocese this week announced it wants all of its 288 churches to go as green as, well St. Jude’s robe.

“The foundation of our approach to the environment is Gospel-based,” said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese. “The question for us is, `How do the commandments to love God and neighbor find expression in our relationship to the environment?”‘

The newly formed Creation Sustainability Ministry, a committee of community members and environmentalists, has been charged with guiding parishes into sustainability.
–The Los Angeles Daily News

Tennessee gov. opposes mountain-top mining
For the first time a state government has submitted a petition to the federal government to set aside state-owned mountain ridgelines as unsuitable for coal surface mining.

 Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and the state of Tennessee filed a petition with the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, asking that the agency initiate a study and public dialogue on the suitability of state-owned lands in the Northern Cumberland Plateau for surface mining, also called mountaintop removal mining.

 Much of the 500 miles of ridgeline covered by the petition is part of Tennessee’s 2007 Connecting the Cumberlands conservation initiative and is located in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties.

 “These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities,” said Governor Bredesen. “This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources.”
–Environmental News Service

 EPA issues drinking water sustainability plan
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy as part of its efforts to promote sustainable infrastructure within the water sector.

 The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy emphasizes the need to build on existing efforts to promote sustainable water infrastructure, working with states and water systems to employ robust, comprehensive planning processes to deliver projects that are cost effective over their life cycle, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals. The policy encourages communities to develop sustainable systems that employ effective utility management practices to build and maintain the level of technical, financial, and managerial capacity necessary to ensure long-term sustainability. 

 Download the Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy (PDF).
–EPA News Release 

 Red River flood-relief levee welcomes ducks
The fields of soybeans, corn and sugar beets in the Red River valley are crisscrossed by a network of ditches built and rebuilt by farmers and the government to speed spring runoff and plant crops early. 

Early planting makes for a better harvest, but rapid spring runoff increases flooding for cities downstream.

“The trick is to strike that balance,” said Jon Roeschlien, administrator for Bois de Sioux watershed district. “How do we balance [agricultural] drainage and flood protection?”

Roeschlien, who oversaw construction of what’s called the North Ottawa project, thinks he has the answer. 

The permanent levee completed last year surrounds three square miles of farmland about 20 miles south of Breckenridge. Essentially, it’s a shallow man-made lake holds all of the spring runoff from 75 square miles upstream. Gates can release the water slowly after the spring flood passes. 

Roeschlin said the $19 million project in the southern Red River valley is a bargain, given the flood damage it eliminates downstream. It also will create much needed wildlife habitat.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Dubuque launches water sustainability pilot
IBM and the City of Dubuque, Iowa, announced the launch of the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study.

  Dubuque is in the process of installing smart water meters throughout the city.  Initially 300 volunteer citizens in Dubuque have joined the program to understand water consumption and conservation.  Over the next several months, data will be collected and analyzed, providing information and insight on consumption trends and patterns that will enable both the volunteers and city management to conserve water and lower costs.

The study’s goal is to demonstrate how informed and engaged citizens can help make their city sustainable. By providing citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption, the project will encourage behavior changes resulting in conservation, cost reduction and leak repair. 

Dubuque has implemented a city-wide water meter upgrade project and has worked with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer. This locally manufactured device is designed to augment the water meter in providing the most accurate measurement possible during low-flow use. The new system will allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings.
–IBM and City of Dubuque News Release

 

Ground disposal of effluent proposed

August 16, 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.

Comment sought on ground disposal of sewage effluent
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on the proposed construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Bethel that would put treated effluent into the ground.

 The proposal is part of a plan to install sewers in the fast-growing community that now is mostly served by private septic systems.

 Under the plan from Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, about 420,000 gallons per day of effluent would flow  into two shallow earthen basins, where the effluent then would drain into the ground. Sewage entering the plant would be treated and filtered to produce effluent that would be higher quality than  the water discharged from other Metropolitan Council treatment plants.

 Jim Roth, the Metropolitan Council engineer overseeing the project, said the effluent would go into a shallow aquifer that is separated by a layer of silty till material from a deeper sand aquifer that supplies water to private wells in the area. 

Details of the project are spelled out in an environmental assessment worksheet prepared by the Pollution Control Agency. The agency is seeking public comment on that document before determining if a more comprehensive environmental review will be conducted. Comments are due by Sept. 8.

 Questions about the project can be directed to Nancy Drach at 651-757-2317 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.  

Pawlenty rejects DNR shoreline rules
Minnesota regulators spent years devising more protective shore land and dock rules to guide new development along state lakes.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent them back to the drawing board, rejecting their revisions as “overreaching” and as undermining local control and property rights. He suggested the Legislature take up the matter next winter. 

“The rules you forwarded to me regarding these issues do not strike a proper balance between protection of our lakes and waterways and the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property,” Pawlenty wrote in a letter to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten. 

Pawlenty’s decision means decades-old standards for lakeshore construction and docks that are commonly considered out of date will be around a good while longer. If the governor had accepted the draft changes, a public hearing process would have begun soon, and new standards could have been in place next year.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Study seeks pollution hot spots for Woodbury lakes
Two Woodbury lakes are being targeted for an experimental cleanup approach this summer.

Officials are using what’s called “subwatershed assessment” on Powers and Carver lakes and other lakes across the metro area, according to Jay Riggs, manager of the Washington Conservation District.

 “This is really cutting-edge,” Riggs said. “We are trying to identify which practices to put into place.”

The technique combines old and new technologies to find the sources of runoff pollution around a lake and the cheapest way to stop them.

 Aerial photos and specialized computer software are used to identify problem areas. Then one- to three-block areas are mapped out, and homeowners are given suggestions for cutting runoff pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Wind turbines planned near Manhattan
For years, New York officials have envisioned powering the region from a set of huge wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. But well before an offshore wind farm would be up and running, giant turbines may soon be spinning much closer to the city.

Within three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hopes to have five wind towers, each more than 280 feet tall, operating on the west side of New York Harbor. Nearby, the City of Bayonne, N.J., plans to install an equally large turbine to power a sewage-pumping station. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering placing wind turbines on or near its hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
–The New York Times

Anglers’ felt soles spread invasives
For fly fishers who pride themselves on a conservationist ethic, it hurts to discover that they may be trampling on that ethic every time they wade into a trout stream. 

Blame their boots — or, more precisely, their felt soles. Growing scientific evidence suggests that felt, which helps anglers stay upright on slick rocks, is also a vehicle for noxious microorganisms that hitchhike to new places and disrupt freshwater ecosystems. 

That is why Alaska and Vermont recently approved bans on felt-soled boots and Maryland plans to do so soon.
–The New York Times 

Satellites to track migrating loons
Ten common loons are now sporting satellite transmitters so researchers can study the migratory movements and feeding patterns of these remarkable fish-eating waterbirds as they migrate through the Great Lakes toward their winter homes farther south. 

By using satellite tracking devices implanted in the loons from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Geological Survey scientists expect to learn essential information about avian botulism needed by managers to develop important conservation strategies for the loon species.  

“This study will also help managers better understand how loons fare as they head to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts,” said USGS scientist Kevin Kenow, of the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Cross, WI. “Right now, little is known about habitat use along their entire migratory routes.” 

In addition to the loons with satellite transmitters, about 70 other loons will have geolocator tags, which will record daily location, temperature, light levels and water-pressure data that will log the foraging depths of these diving birds. 

Movement of loons from previous studies using satellite transmitters can be followed online.  Loon movements from the current study will be available later this summer. To see a video on the project, click here.
–USGS News Release 

Origin of Chicago’s Asian carp murky
In the wake of a government news release that pointed a finger at humans for planting an Asian carp near Lake Michigan, facts are coming to light that indicate Illinois officials may have stretched their own science to sell a whopper of a fish tale. 

When netting crews hunting for Asian carp above an electric barrier on the Chicago canal system in June pulled a three-foot long, 20-pound mature bighead carp from Lake Calumet – just six miles south of Lake Michigan – the question was: How did it get there? 

If it swam on its own, that would spell trouble for Lake Michigan because it could indicate that the electric fish barrier about 35 miles downstream from the lake was not doing its job, and more fish had perhaps breached this last line of defense.

If it were determined that the fish got there with human help, then it could more easily be explained as an isolated find, and not evidence that additional steps should be taken on the canal system to protect the Great Lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Michigan spill feeds pipeline opposition
Environmental groups and landowners, upset by last month’s oil spill in Michigan, are urging the Obama administration to deny a proposal for an oil pipeline that would go from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Alberta-based TransCanada’s proposed 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline would link up with its existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline, which began operations in June, and go through Montana, South Dakota,  Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

 Opponents say last month’s spill underscored the dangers of the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline ruptured on July 25 and spilled nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. 

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the Keystone XL project even before the Michigan spill, but the incident has increased scrutiny and elevated concerns.
–USA Today

UN chief urges multiple, small steps on climate
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said that he doubted that member states would reach a new global climate change agreement in December at a conference in Mexico. 

Mr. Ban, who was the head cheerleader for reaching a deal during the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, suggested that a better approach might consist of small steps in separate fields that built toward wider consensus rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.

 “Climate change, I think, has been making progress, even though we have not reached such a point where we will have a globally agreed, comprehensive deal,” Mr. Ban said at a news conference.
–The New York Times 

 Mercury limits set for cement industry
The Environmental Protection Agency set the first limits for mercury emissions from cement factories. The rules will cut mercury emissions and particulate matter 92 percent a year starting in 2013, the agency said. Manufacture of Portland cement, the type most widely used, is the third-biggest source of mercury air pollution in the country, the agency said. Mercury, which can harm childhood development of the brain and is linked to asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, is released when cement components are heated in a kiln, according to agency documents. The EPA estimated that the rules would yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in environmental and health benefits and cost companies as much as $950 million a year.
–Bloomberg News Service

Save a reef, saute a lionfish
If you can’t beat it, eat it. That’s the edict coming from scientists who are trying to combat the spread of invasive lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 

A native of South Pacific and Indian Oceans and popular aquarium specimen, lionfish were likely released off Florida back in the 1980s and have since spread as far as North Carolina and South America.

Brilliant maroon with a “mane” of long, venomous spines, the lionfish is a voracious eater, with no match to its predatory prowess in foreign territory. Scientists fear its rapid reproduction and aggressive appetite will pummel already overfished native stocks of snapper and grouper because they compete for the same food. The spiny swimmers might also dine on algae-eating parrot fish, causing algae to grow out of control and cover reefs.

  The American appetite for seafood may be the best hope against the interloper. Thus the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) has partnered with chefs and spear fishermen to launch an Eat Lionfish Campaign. Fortunately, the lionfish is said to be scrumptious: a delicate white fish rivaling the taste of grouper and snapper.
— Audubon Magazine

White Bear Lake hits record low
The parched state of the lake is an everyday topic in the city of White Bear Lake. 

The lake recently hit a record low — more than 5 feet below its normal level — and residents are trying to figure out how to refill the 2,200-acre body of water. 

“It’s the talk of the town,” said Mike Parenteau, a board member for the lake’s conservation district.

His group recently accepted a $5,000 grant from the White Bear Lake Homeowners Association to study recharge possibilities. 

And while White Bear Lake residents fret, folks a few miles west in Shoreview are marveling at Snail Lake’s rebound. Last summer, the 150-acre lake was 5 feet below its normal level, too, but in the past four months, it has risen almost 4 feet.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 California delays vote on $11.1 billion water bond
California lawmakers have voted to delay putting an $11.1 billion water bond to voters, extending a battle to rework the biggest effort in decades to upgrade the state’s water system.

The legislators also agreed to lengthen the terms of California’s nine water commissioners appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a change that some critics of the governor say could give him influence over the direction of the state’s water projects after leaving office in January. The commissioners’ terms would have ended at a various times over the next few years; they will now all hold their positions until May 2014.

 The postponement — approved by narrow majorities in both statehouse chambers — is part of a broader struggle to improve California’s ailing water system. The Golden State’s frequent droughts and growing population place special demands on an aging water system, which itself causes major environmental damage.

 The bond, part of a set of water-related bills approved by the legislature last year, is a test case for how well California can balance environmental concerns with water demand from farmers, consumers and businesses. The bills called for projects including ecosystem restoration, water conservation, groundwater monitoring and construction of water storage, such as dams and reservoirs.

Some of those projects are moving forward, but the bond requires the approval of California’s voters. Lawmakers agreed to move that vote from Election Day in November to 2012, due to fears that voters would reject the measure.
–The Wall Street Journal

Mexico, U.S. in talks on water storage
The powerful earthquake that rattled Mexicali, Mexico, on Easter Sunday also has stirred serious international talks over the future of the Colorado River, the Las Vegas Valley’s primary water source.

Federal officials from the United States and Mexico met at the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s office in downtown Las Vegas to discuss a shortage and water-sharing agreement between the two nations.

The talks have been ongoing since early 2008, but the 7.2 magnitude quake on April 4 seemed to create more urgency on the Mexican side because widespread infrastructure damage might prevent that nation from using its full Colorado River allocation.

 Lorri Gray-Lee has been taking part in the discussions as director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region.

 She said Mexico wants to be able to store a part of its annual river allocation in Lake Mead for future use once the earthquake damage has been repaired.
–Las Vegas Review-Journal

Huge California solar complex proposed
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.

But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity. 

Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. 

At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
–The New York Times

China struggles with environmental challenges
This year, China will leapfrog Japan to become the second-biggest economy on Earth, behind only the USA, predicts Ting Lu, a China economist with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Next month, China starts broadcasts on CNN and other networks of an image-boosting commercial featuring stars such as basketballer Yao Ming and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. 

Back at ground level, though, in what remains a developing country, China’s people and government are struggling to deal with a series of natural disasters that some environmentalists believe are the deadly, man-made consequences of favoring economic growth over environmental protection. 

The latest tragedy occurred when heavy rain triggered landslides that blocked a river in Zhouqu County, an ethnically Tibetan area in northwestern Gansu province, forcing floodwater to sweep through the county seat.
–USA Today

 MPCA levies $45,000 pollution penalty
Universal Circuits, which operates a Maple Grove circuit-board-manufacturing plant, has agreed to pay a $45,000 penalty for alleged environmental violations.

 The alleged violations were discovered in 2007 and 2008, during inspections by Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services staff.  Hennepin County referred the violations to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for enforcement. 

The manufacturing process at Universal Circuits’ Maple Grove facility uses hazardous materials and generates hazardous wastes containing or including sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid and several other corrosive etching and cleaning chemicals; solvent waste containing xylene; and copper, lead, cyanide-containing and other wastes. 

 During their inspections of the facility, Hennepin County staff documented conditions indicating that Universal Circuits had failed to recover spilled hazardous wastes as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. Hennepin County staff also documented that industrial waste or other pollutants had breached a trench inside the building, resulting in a discharge from the facility to the soil.

 The company has since corrected all alleged violations.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA takes on eight Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against eight beef feedlot operations in northwest Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations into the region’s rivers and streams.

All eight of the most recent enforcement actions involve administrative compliance orders issued to medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which are feedlots that confine between 300 and 999 cattle and whose discharge is facilitated by a man-made conveyance.
–EPA Region 7 News Release

The Minnesota R.; zebra mussels; climate change

August 2, 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.

Minnesota R. clean-up still a work in progress
The Minnesota River is flowing high and fast — and as dark as chocolate milk — boosted by rains, runoff and soil erosion.

 It’s been nearly 18 years since former Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the river — long the most polluted in the state — and vowed to make it clean enough to fish and swim in within 10 years.

That didn’t happen — call it a work in progress. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent for everything from new sewage treatment plants to wetland and grassland restorations. 

Though it’s hard to tell by looking at it, the river likely is a bit cleaner than it was when Carlson challenged the state to clean up what had become — and some would say still is — a giant drainage ditch.
–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels found in Lake Minnetonka
Zebra mussels have invaded Lake Minnetonka, a breach of the state’s defenses against invasive species that threatens to dramatically change the character of Minnesota’s 10th-largest lake within just a few years. 

Department of Natural Resources biologists confirmed that a small number of mussels are attached to rocks along the shore, and their size suggests that a reproducing population has been in the lake for at least a year. 

In places where they’ve become established, the fingernail-sized mussels proliferate by the millions, consume food needed by fish, clog water intake pipes, ruin fish spawning beds and litter beaches and shallow areas with razor-sharp shells.
–The Star Tribune

 Climate change ‘unmistakable,’ agency says
“Global warming is undeniable,” and it’s happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.

 An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual “State of the Climate” reports.  Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

 The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.

 For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an “unmistakable upward trend,” the study says.

 And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency “jumps off the page at you,” report co-author Derek Arndt said.
–National Geographic News

Minnesota’s air is much cleaner
Inhale. Exhale.

 That lungful of clean air was brought to you by the reformed polluters of Minnesota. 

They have slashed pollution by more than 50 percent since 1970. Smokestack industries have cut emissions by almost two-thirds. The biggest polluters — drivers — have cut pollution by 77 percent. 

Put another way, air pollution per capita in America has dropped almost two-thirds. 

“This is like the bald eagle coming back,” said Bob Moffitt, spokesman for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. “I think we should be celebrating.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

UN declares access to safe water a human right
 Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, the General Assembly declared, voicing deep concern that almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water. 

The 192-member Assembly also called on United Nations Member States and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone. 

The Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favor and zero votes against, while 41 countries, including the United States, abstained from voting. 

The text of the resolution expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.
–United Nations News Release

 A.G. wants action on Asian carp in Mississippi River
One week after filing suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson suggested a similar approach to hold off their advance into the Upper Mississippi River. 

Swanson, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and other conservationists held a news conference along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis to highlight the problems of invasive Asian carp moving into Minnesota waters. 

“They are a major threat to our life in Minnesota,” said Klobuchar, noting how the voracious creatures have taken over other ecosystems and could devastate the state’s $2.7 billion fishing industry. 

Asian carp were brought to the United States four decades ago to control algae and other problems in southern fish farms. They escaped into the wild and have expanded their reach, moving up the Missouri River to South Dakota and the Mississippi to the southern Minnesota border area. 

Last month, a 19-pound Asian carp was caught in a Chicago-area waterway beyond an electrical barrier in the Illinois River designed to stop the fish from entering Lake Michigan and ultimately Lake Superior. Swanson and attorneys general from four other states filed suit against the Corps and the Illinois agency overseeing the waterway, seeking immediate action to keep the carp out of the lakes and long-term measures to separate the Illinois River from Lake Michigan.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Researchers find massive undersea river
Researchers working in the Black Sea have found currents of water 350 times greater than the River Thames flowing along the sea bed, carving out channels much like a river on the land. 

The undersea river, which is up to 115ft deep in places, even has rapids and waterfalls much like its terrestrial equivalents. 

If found on land, scientists estimate it would be the world’s sixth largest river in terms of the amount of water flowing through it. 

The discovery could help explain how life manages to survive in the deep ocean far out to sea away from the nutrient rich waters that are found close to land, as the rivers carry sediment and nutrients with them.
–The Telegraph

 FDA considers genetically modified salmon
It may not be the 500-pound “Frankenfish” some researchers were talking about 10 years ago, but a Massachusetts company says it is on the verge of receiving federal approval to market a quick-growing Atlantic salmon that’s been genetically modified with help from a Pacific Chinook salmon. 

Although genetically engineered crops such as corn and soybeans have been part of the American diet for several years, if the Food and Drug Administration approves the salmon, it will be the first transgenic animal headed for the dinner table.
–The Washington Post 

Research: Ag advances slow greenhouse gases
Advances in conventional agriculture have dramatically slowed the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, in part by allowing farmers to grow more food to meet world demand without plowing up vast tracts of land, a study by three Stanford University researchers has found. 

The study, which has been embraced by many agricultural groups but criticized by some environmentalists, found that improvements in technology, plant varieties and other advances enabled farmers to grow more without a big increase in greenhouse gas releases. Much of the credit goes to eliminating the need to plow more land to plant additional crops. 

The study’s authors said they aren’t claiming modern, high-production agriculture is without problems, including the potential for soil degradation through intense cultivation and fertilizer runoff that can contaminate fresh water. 

“In this one way that we’ve looked at, which is the climate impact, its pretty obviously been a good thing,” said Steven Davis, a geologist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford who worked on the study. “There’s very clearly other negative impacts of modern agriculture.”
–The Associated Press 

The sooty downside of Chinese economic boom
China, the world’s most prodigious emitter of greenhouse gas, continues to suffer the downsides of unbridled economic growth despite a raft of new environmental initiatives.

 The quality of air in Chinese cities is increasingly tainted by coal-burning power plants, grit from construction sites and exhaust from millions of new cars squeezing onto crowded roads, according to a government study issued this week. Other newly released figures show a jump in industrial accidents and an epidemic of pollution in waterways. 

The report’s most unexpected findings pointed to an increase in inhalable particulates in cities like Beijing, where officials have struggled to improve air quality by shutting down noxious factories and tightening auto emission standards. Despite such efforts, including an ambitious program aimed at reducing the use of coal for home heating, the average concentration of particulates in the capital’s air violated the World Health Organization’s standards more than 80 percent of the time during the last quarter of 2008.
–The New York Times 

Prince Charles urges sustainable lifestyle
Prince Charles urged Britain to tackle “possibly the greatest challenge humanity has faced” by creating a more sustainable future. 

The heir to the throne, 61, wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper that too often people saw “becoming more sustainable” as a threat to their quality of life or a risk to the economy. 

But he insisted that small, simple measures could be taken that would make the journey fun and more positive, as he launched a new initiative called Start. 

Charles said he was recycling bath water to use on the garden and turning old curtain material into “fashionable bags.”
Agence France-Presse

 BPA found on cash register receipts
A warning before you take your receipt at the grocery store, fast food restaurants or pharmacy.

A new study by the Environmental Working Group found they could put your health at risk.

Researchers say their findings show, BPA was found on 40 percent of receipts. The chemical levels were higher than those in canned foods, baby bottles and infant formula.
The study revealed, BPA was detected on at least one of several receipts from a number of popular stores, restaurants and the  U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria, according to the private Washington-based research group.

BPA, a plastic hardener linked to breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, reacts with dye to form black print on receipts handled by millions of people daily.
–The Los Angeles Times

Kayaking the urban Los Angeles River
Environmental activist George Wolfe has always believed the best way to know a river is to kayak it. So when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently designated the entire Los Angeles River a “traditional navigable waterway,” he organized an expedition. 

Toting a waterproof first-aid kit and a sack of binoculars, Wolfe led seven people clad in T-shirts, shorts, sun hats and life vests to a lush, eight-mile stretch of river bottom near Griffith Park known as the Glendale Narrows. 

Awaiting them downstream were quiet pools draining into noisy chutes, strewn with shoes, clothing, shopping carts, tires and plastic bottles, and shaded by cottonwood trees, cane forests and cattails. Plastic grocery bags snared in tree limbs rustled in the breeze. The river was running warm, greenish and, as one of the kayakers put it, “smelly as old socks.”
–The Los Angeles Times 

White Bear homeowners fund study of lake level
Engineers will take a fresh look at the causes and evaluate possible solutions to record low water levels that have strangled White Bear Lake the past two summers.

The White Bear Lake Conservation District accepted a $5,000 White Bear Lake Homeowners Association grant to commission phase one of a Water Level Augmentation Study. The first phase will evaluate and interpret a comprehensive 1998 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources study on historic White Bear Lake water levels and associated groundwater pumping.

“It was not our intention to reinvent the wheel and study what the state has already studied,” said Homeowners Association President Mike Crary. “This will simply get more facts and get a better understanding of what the DNR study was saying.”

Crary said low water levels are driving lake home values down, which leads to decreased city tax revenue. There are approximately 500 homes on White Bear Lake and about 100 currently have no access to water, he said.
–The White Bear Press

L.A. weakens water conservation law
In June 2009, an ordinance limiting lawn and garden watering with sprinklers to two days a week took effect in Los Angeles. Citywide water consumption dropped by more than 20%. 

Yet, 13 months later, the ordinance that pushed Los Angeles to the fore of the Western water conservation movement is about to be gutted, having become collateral damage in a roiling brawl over rate hikes and green energy between the City Council and the mayor’s office. 

On July 6, the City Council sent the utility a neutered version of the lawn ordinance that would allow watering an extra day a week. Browbeaten Department of Water and Power commissioners quietly rubber-stamped it. What is being passed off as a tweak looks more like a death knell for one of the best collective environmental efforts made by the citizens of Los Angeles.
–The Los Angeles Times 

U of M helps form atrazine remediation venture
An atrazine remediation technology based on the research of University of Minnesota biochemist Lawrence Wackett and microbiologist Michael Sadowsky will serve as the basis for a start-up company launched by two recent College of Science and Engineering graduates, Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson. 

NewWater, the start-up created by Mullenbach and Johansson, will offer a biocatalyst-based drinking water filtration technology that can reduce atrazine concentrations in water to acceptable levels. 

Atrazine is a selective herbicide that is widely used by farmers in the United States to control broadleaf weeds and grasses. More than half of U.S. corn acreage, for example, is treated with atrazine. First registered for use in 1959, the Environmental Protection Agency has long required water systems to test and treat for atrazine. In recent years the safety of atrazine has been the subject of much debate among scientists, and the EPA recently initiated a new scientific evaluation to determine whether current regulations need to be strengthened.

The university granted NewWater the use of three university patents, and the university holds an equity stake in the company. In NewWater’s technology, enzymes developed by Wackett and Sadowsky will serve as a catalyst to initiate bacterial metabolism of atrazine, decomposing it into harmless by-products. The process does not produce a water waste stream, and it can treat to much lower levels of atrazine than can be achieved with the current solution, activated carbon.
–University of Minnesota News Release 

San Diego to test gray water for drinking
The San Diego City Council awarded a $6.6 million contract to build a test facility that will treat wastewater and turn it into safe drinking water. 

The contract went to global engineering firm Camp Dresser and McKee to design, test and operate the small-scale plant in order to deem whether a similar system should be used on a greater scale. 

The council voted 6-2 in support of the project — an ideological shift from discussions over the past two decades about turning wastewater into drinking water.

Opponents of the treatment process in the past derided it as “toilet to tap.” However, there was not a single member of the public who spoke out against it at the council meeting. 

Rather, nearly a dozen speakers representing groups ranging from the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the San Diego Building Industry Association came to show their support.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune 

Jordan River fit for baptisms, Israel says
Israel insisted that a site on the Jordan river reputed to be the spot where Jesus was baptised is “fit for baptism,” rejecting a claim water pollution has reached dangerous levels. 

Bacteriological tests at Qasr al-Yehud “prove that the Jordan River water in the area is fit for baptism,” the military office in charge of administration of the occupied West Bank said in a statement. 

“It should be noted that the test showed 88 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water whereas the relevant health ministry standard is 1,000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water,” the statement said. 

But Friends of the Earth Middle East reiterated its call for baptisms to be banned at the lower Jordan River and dismissed the result of the test, pointing out that other tests have shown pollution levels to be far higher.
–AFP News Service