Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

The Farm Bill, conservation and crop insurance

July 9, 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.

House Farm Bill lacks conservation measure
A key soil and water conservation provision in the Senate-passed federal Farm Bill is not in a  House draft of the bill unveiled last week.

The Senate bill, approved last month, would require farmers to meet certain minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. That provision would maintain conservation requirements that most farmers currently have to meet to receive direct subsidy payments, which are being phased out in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

In addition to the difference over the conservation provision, the House legislation would cut total Farm Bill spending more deeply, make bigger cuts in the food stamp program and provide more federal spending for southern rice and cotton farmers at the expense of Midwestern corn and soybean growers.

Read a National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition commentary critical of  the conservation provisions in the House legislation.  Read a Politico analysis of the two bills. Read a Star Tribune editorial  on the Farm Bill, and an op-ed response to it that focuses on conservation provisions. The op-ed was written by Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited, Peggy Ladner of the Nature Conservancy, Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever and  Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Research: Rising seas can be slowed, not stopped
Rising sea levels cannot be stopped over the next several hundred years, even if deep emissions cuts lower global average temperatures, but they can be slowed down, climate scientists said in a study.

A lot of climate research shows that rising greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for increasing global average surface temperatures by about 0.17 degrees Celsius a decade from 1980-2010 and for a sea level rise of about 2.3mm a year from 2005-2010 as ice caps and glaciers melt.

Rising sea levels threaten about a tenth of the world’s population who live in low-lying areas and islands which are at risk of flooding, including the Caribbean, Maldives and Asia-Pacific island groups. More than 180 countries are negotiating a new global climate pact which will come into force by 2020 and force all nations to cut emissions to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius this century – a level scientists say is the minimum required to avert catastrophic effects.

But even if the most ambitious emissions cuts are made, it might not be enough to stop sea levels rising due to the thermal expansion of sea water, said scientists at the United States’ National Centre for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organisation Climate Central and Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Melbourne.

Citizens join fight against aquatic invasives
Clayton Jensen spends a lot of time at the public access to Lake Melissa, about a mile down the beach from his home.

He carries a handful of glossy fliers he designed and printed, simple one-page handouts that explain how boaters can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The creatures, which include zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil, are moving from lake to lake across Minnesota. Often, they hitch a ride unobserved on boats and equipment.

Jensen, a retired doctor, is part of a movement of citizens and local governments joining the effort to slow the spread of the unwanted plants and animals. Although he attended a training session sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, he has no authority as an inspector. His job is to educate.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Drip irrigation expands worldwide 
As the world population climbs and water stress spreads around the globe, finding ways of getting more crop per drop to meet our food needs is among the most urgent of challenges.

One answer to this call is drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the roots of plants in just the right amounts. It can double or triple water productivity – boosting crop per drop – and it appears to be taking off worldwide.

Over the last twenty years, the area under drip and other “micro” irrigation methods has risen at least 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to more than 10.3 million. (One hectare is about 2.5 acres. The latest figures from the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage include countries accounting for only three-quarters of the world’s irrigated area, so the 10.3 million figure is low.) The most dramatic gains have occurred in China and India, the world’s top two irrigators, where the area under micro-irrigation expanded 88-fold and 111-fold, respectively, over the last two decades.
–National Geographic

Proposal seeks to cut nitrous oxide releases from ag 
Read an interesting article from the Corn and Soybean Digest about a proposal to pay farmers to reduce their losses of nitrous oxide – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – from the fertilization of their crops. Under the proposal, other industries faced with caps on the greenhouse gases they emit could buy credits for nitrous oxide emissions reduced by farmers.

Overall, farms are not a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but nitrogen fertilizer use releases nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide in the atmosphere traps far more heat than the most common greenhouse gas,  carbon dioxide. A California nonprofit group, Climate Action Reserve, is pushing for establishment of a market in nitrous oxide credits.

GAO reviews EPA water pollution grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sends about $200 million a year to the states to fight non-point water pollution, including agricultural runoff. A new General Accounting Office review of  the spending finds fault with some aspects of the grants. Read the report.

Conservation wins one in Senate’s Farm Bill

June 25, 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.

Senate restores conservation to crop insurance
The U.S. Senate, on a bipartisan vote, approved a 10-year, nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill that will cut $24 billion from current spending levels. The bill includes a provision requiring farmers comply with  minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for crop insurance subsidies. Many environmental organizations, including the Freshwater Society, had urged lawmakers to restore the conservation compliance measure dropped from the federal crop insurance program in 1996. Read a New York Times article on the bill that emerged from the Senate. Read a column from last fall in which Freshwater President Gene Merriam supported restoring the conservation requirement. Both Minnesota Senators voted for the amendment restoring the conservation requirement.

DNR holds off on roadside stops for invasives
First-ever random roadside checks of Minnesota boaters planned for this spring and early summer — part of a crackdown to slow the spread of invasive species — have been delayed because of legal concerns by some county attorneys.

“Some are just not buying into whether the legal authority is there,” said Jim Konrad, Department of Natural Resources enforcement chief.

Otter Tail County Attorney David Hauser is among those who have concerns. “Our Supreme Court has found random stops for DWI are not constitutional,” Hauser said. “We’ve asked the DNR, before we proceed with these stops, let’s look at this.”
–The Star Tribune

Minneapolis steps up invasives restrictions 
Park leaders in Minneapolis have imposed new restrictions on boat traffic on city lakes, a drastic effort to prevent the spread of invasive species that surprised anglers and conservation leaders.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved an emergency resolution that will require boats entering its lakes to be inspected, chaining off boat launches during weekday afternoons and other times when inspectors aren’t present.

The new rules go beyond state law — which doesn’t require boat checks unless an inspector is there — making it the most stringent such measure by a Minnesota city. “We’re concerned about the loss of access and that we might end up with different restrictions across the state depending on who owns it,” said Steve Hirsch, director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ ecological and water resources division. “We need to be consistent.”

He said the DNR hasn’t determined if the city’s steps are legal.
–The Star Tribune

How big will that Dead Zone be? It’s hard to say 
A team of NOAA-supported scientists is predicting that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone could range from a low of approximately 1,197 square miles to as much as 6,213 square miles.

The wide range is the result of using two different forecast models. The forecast is based on Mississippi River nutrient inputs compiled annually by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The smaller dead zone forecast, covering an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, comes from researchers from the University of Michigan. Their predicted size is based solely on the current year’s spring nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River which are significantly lower than average due to drought conditions throughout much of the watershed. The larger dead zone forecast, the equivalent of an area the size of the state of Connecticut, is from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University scientists.

The Louisiana forecast model includes prior year’s nutrient inputs which can remain in bottom sediments and be recycled the following year. Last year’s flood, followed by this year’s low flows, increased the influence of this “carryover effect” on the second model’s prediction.
–USGS News Release

 How old is that groundwater? Pretty old
A portion of the groundwater in the upper Patapsco aquifer underlying Maryland is over a million years old. A new study suggests that this ancient groundwater, a vital source of freshwater supplies for the region east of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, was recharged over periods of time much greater than human timescales.

“Understanding the average age of groundwater allows scientists to estimate at what rate water is re-entering the aquifer to replace the water we are currently extracting for human use,” explained USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “This is the first step in designing sustainable practices of aquifer management that take into account the added challenges of sea level rise and increased human demand for quality water supplies.”

This new study from the USGS, the Maryland Geological Survey and the Maryland Department of the Environment documents for the first time the occurrence of groundwater that is more than one million years old in a major water-supply aquifer along the Atlantic Coast.
–USGS News Release

Big firms call for sustainable water use, pricing 
It’s not often that you get 45 of the world’s most powerful CEOs calling on governments to push up the price of a key resource.

But this is exactly what happened when companies ranging from Coca Cola, Nestle, Glaxo SmithKline, Merck and Bayer signed a special communiqué at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development highlighting the urgency of the global water crisis and calling on governments to step up their efforts and to work more actively with the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to address it.

Of particular importance is their call to establish a “fair and appropriate price” of water for agriculture, industry, and people.

Gavin Power, deputy director the UN Global Compact, which is overseeing the collaboration, said that it was in companies’ long-term interest to preserve water supplies and that in many countries water is not treated with respect because it is too cheap.
–The Guardian

Springs are Florida’s canary in the coal mine
Invasive species and diminished flow caused by a recent drought and groundwater pumping are afflicting Florida’s artesian springs. Read a New York Times report on Florida’s emerging realization that its springs are vulnerable.

Sea level rising fast on East Coast
Rates of sea level rise are increasing three-to-four times faster along portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast than globally, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report published in Nature Climate Change.

Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to north of Boston, Mass. — coined a “hotspot” by scientists — has increased 2 – 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 – 1.0 millimeter per year.

Based on data and analyses included in the report, if global temperatures continue to rise, rates of sea level rise in this area are expected to continue increasing.
 –USGS News Release

Arsenic, Asian carp and a climate poll

September 6, 2011

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

Arsenic often found in water samples
About 20% of untreated water samples from public, private, and monitoring wells across the nation contain concentrations of at least one trace element, such as arsenic, manganese and uranium, at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“In public wells these contaminants are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and contaminants are removed from the water before people drink it,” said Joe Ayotte, USGS hydrologist and lead author on the study. “However, trace elements could be present in water from private wells at levels that are considered to pose a risk to human health, because they aren’t subject to regulations.”

Trace elements in groundwater exceed human health benchmarks at a rate that far outpaces most other groundwater contaminants, such as nitrate, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. Most trace elements, including manganese and arsenic, get into the water through the natural process of rock weathering. Radon, derived from naturally occurring uranium in aquifers, also occurs frequently at high levels in groundwater. Human activities like mining, waste disposal, and construction also can contribute to trace elements in groundwater.

Arsenic was found above the EPA human health benchmark in 7% of wells. (The Minnesota Health Department estimates that 10 percent of wells in the state have arsenic in excess of the health standard.)
Read the USGS full report.
–USGS News Release

No Asian carp caught in St. Croix
A commercial fishing operator and state fisheries employees failed to catch a single Asian carp in the St. Croix River in nine days on the water.

“That’s very good news,” said Tom Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources commissioner. “It most likely means there are a small number of fish in there.”

Water samples from the St. Croix tested positive last month for genetic material from silver carp, suggesting the invasive, leaping Asian species may be in the river as far north as the dam at St. Croix Falls.

The commercial operator from Illinois, with experience catching Asian carp, set nets at various places from the river’s mouth at Prescott, Wis., to the dam at St. Croix Falls over four days last week. The DNR also used nets and electro-fishing for five days and didn’t find an Asian carp.

Landwehr said experts believe the environmental DNA (eDNA) testing used to detect the carp is accurate, but it’s impossible to determine how many carp might be in the river. “They searched everywhere that looked like good carp habitat,” Landwehr said. Failing to find fish might give officials a bit more time to deal with the problem, he said.
–The Star Tribune

Poll: Climate change worry drops
Worldwide fears about climate change have receded in the past four years, as other environmental issues such as air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and use of pesticides have been given more attention, according to a new report issued by Nielsen Co. In an Internet survey of more than 25,000 respondents in 51 countries, 69% said they are worried about climate change, up from 66% in 2009, but down from 72% in 2007.

Meanwhile, 77% of respondents named air pollution as a main concern, while 75% cited water pollution. For 73% of those surveyed, pesticides were seen as a serious problem, Nielsen said. “Focus on immediate worries such as job
security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years,” said Maxwell Boykoff, senior visiting research associate at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.
–Market Watch

USGS offers on-line water quality modeling
The USGS has released an online, interactive decision support system that provides easy access to six newly developed regional models describing how rivers receive and transport nutrients from natural and human sources to sensitive waters, such as
the Gulf of Mexico.

Excessive nutrients in the nation’s rivers, streams and coastal areas are a major issue for water managers, because they cause algal blooms that increase costs to treat drinking water, limit recreational activities, threaten valuable fisheries, and can be toxic to humans and wildlife.

Each region and locality has a unique set of nutrient sources and characteristics that determine how those nutrients are transported to streams.

For example, the decision support system indicates that reducing wastewater discharges throughout the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina by 25 percent will reduce the amount of nitrogen transported to the Pamlico Sound from the Neuse River
Basin by three percent; whereas a 25 percent reduction in agricultural sources, such as fertilizer and manure, will reduce the amount of nitrogen by 12 percent.

The new USGS regional models were developed using the SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes) modeling framework. Results detailing nutrient conditions in each region are published in the Journal of American Water Resources Association.
–USGS News Release

AGs press to close L. Michigan to Asian carp
Six attorneys general in the Great Lakes region called for a multi-state coalition that would push the federal government to protect the lakes from invasive species such as Asian carp by cutting off their artificial link to the Mississippi River basin.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the officials invited colleagues in 27 other states to join a lobbying campaign to separate the two watersheds, contending they have as much to lose as the Great Lakes do from migration of
aquatic plants and animals that can do billions in economic damage and starve out native species.

“We have Asian carp coming into Lake Michigan and zebra mussels moving out of the Great Lakes and into the heart of our country, both of which are like poison to the ecology of our waters,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said. “This is not just a Great Lakes issue. By working together, we hope to put pressure on the federal government to act before it’s too late.”

Also signing the appeal were attorneys general from Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It was being sent to their counterparts across the Mississippi basin as well as Western states such as Nevada, where Lake Mead and other waterways have been infested by zebra mussels believed to have been transported from the Great Lakes by unwitting recreational boaters.

Five of the Great Lakes states are suing the Army Corps over its operation of a Chicago-area waterway network that creates
an artificial pathway between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, a Mississippi River tributary.
–The Associated Press

Iowa Farm Bureau rejects conservation rule
The Iowa Farm Bureau’s policy conference reversed itself. After lengthy debate and a multitude of motions, the group approved a resolution stating that compliance with conservation programs not bea condition for purchasing federally subsidized insurance programs.

The new resolution reads “the Iowa Farm Bureau supports conservation compliance; however, eligibility for federal crop
insurance should not be subject to farm program conservation requirements.”

If federal direct payments to farmers are eliminated by congress, as is widely expected, federal agriculture and
environmental regulators would be left without a compliance requirement if conservation compliance were not added to insurance eligibility. Such compliance was linked to farm insurance for decades but removed in 1996.

The county delegates spent the largest chunk of their debate on conservation issues, matching concerns voiced earlier by
conservationists that wholesale changes in the Farm Bill would imperil hard-won advances in conservation and environmental practices in agriculture.

The delegates had approved the linkage resolution by voice vote, but when the matter was brought for the final consideration that normally is routine, a tallied vote went 57-36 in favor of removing the compliance requirement.
–The Des Moines Register

How many species? Would you believe 8.7 million?
In the foothills of the Andes Mountains lives a bat the size of a raspberry. In Singapore, there’s a nematode worm that dwells only in the lungs of the changeable lizard.

The bat and the worm have something in common: They are both new to science. Each of them recently received its official scientific name: Myotis diminutus for the bat, Rhabdias singaporensis for the worm.

These are certainly not the last two species that scientists will ever discover. Each year, researchers report more than
15,000 new species, and their workload shows no sign of letting up. “Ask any taxonomist in a museum, and they’ll tell you they have hundreds of species waiting to be described,” says Camilo Mora, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii.

Scientists have named and cataloged 1.3 million species. How many more species there are left to discover is a question that has hovered like a cloud over the heads of taxonomists for two centuries.
–The New York Times

UM sponsors raingarden documentary
“A Neighborhood of Raingardens,” a documentary depicting the transformation of a Minneapolis neighborhood through a community raingarden project, will premiere Friday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at the St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis.The
60-minute film, sponsored in part by the Institute on the Environment, follows the initiative from inception to fruition.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Land use/biofuels conference set
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, will host a one-day conference on land use change and biofuel sustainability on Sept. 14 on the university’s St. Paul Campus. There is a $125 fee, $95 for students and representatives of nonprofit organizations.

Get more information.

Projects honored for pollution prevention
Three projects have won Minnesota Governor’s Awards for Pollution Prevention.

The awards honor Minnesota’s businesses, nonprofits, governmental agencies and other institutions demonstrating a commitment to pollution prevention, resource efficiency and sustainable practices.

They were:

  • The City of St. Paul’s Public Pools Green Initiative, which worked with Creative Water Solutions and
    USAquatics to reduce chemical use in public swimming pools. Water use for pool
    backwash was reduced by 30,000 gallons every two weeks, and the city saved $40,000
    in overtime costs and $36,000 in chemical costs.
  •  Recycling and Waste Reduction Initiatives, a partnership between Fairview Health Services, Merrick Inc., Partnership Resources Inc., PPL Industries, and Minnesota Waste Wise, developing an environmentally friendly way to handle material used to cover operating room supplies during sterilization in Fairview Health Services buildings.
  •  From Roofs to Roads, a coalition public, private and nonprofit partners — Solid Waste Management
    Coordinating Board, Dem-Con, Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association and
    Commercial Asphalt Company –worked to recycle roofing shingles. Some of the
    shingles now are used in paving asphalt.

To learn more about the award winners, go to the Governor’s Awards  webpage.

Floating environmental classroom launched
Just in time for back-to-school season, Living Lands & Waters (LL&W) is launching a floating classroom that will bring students out on the river to learn about life on the nation’s waterways. This new, 150-foot barge features a handicapped-accessible classroom that can host up to 60 students at a time, as well as sleeping quarters for the eight-person LL&W crew. LL&W premiered the floating classroom at a dedication hosted on the Mississippi River by long-time partner Cargill on Sept.1 in St. Paul.

The primary goal of the floating classroom is to give participants – specifically young people – the tools and experience to teach others about the need to preserve and protect natural resources. This classroom will bring kids of all ages on board for workshops on a variety of topics related to their studies in history, biology and economics among others, using the river as a teaching tool.

Each workshop will be customized with the teacher to correspond with in-class curriculum. LL&W staff and classroom members will also participate in river clean-ups during their day-long journey on the river.

The floating classroom was made possible by the  support of five LL&W partners: Cargill, ADM, AEP River Operations,
Caterpillar, and Ingram Barge Company, as well as several unions whose members donated many hours of labor to help complete this project in time for the upcoming school year.
–Cargill News Release

British firm developing zebra mussel poison
Cambridge University spinout, BioBullets Ltd, has won a £500k grant from the Technology StrategyBoard to advance commercialisation of its pest control technology for water treatment plants and power facilities.

The company estimates that zebra mussels fouling the plants costs industry billions every year – $5bn in the US alone. Other
invasive species for which the company is developing pesticides cost the UK £2bn a year.

It has patented technologies for the environmentally-friendly control of the pests.

BioBullets has produced and is currently testing a control product for fouling by invasive mussels in shrimp farms. Scientists call it a toxic Malteser.

The products greatly increase toxicity of active ingredients by microencapsulation in edible coatings that the mussels actively filter from the water. Uneaten material rapidly degrades to harmless concentrations.
–Business Weekly

Peterson scales back Red River flood request
Come hell, high water or partisan priorities, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson had pledged for months he’d secure $500 million in the 2012 farm bill toward water-retention projects in the Red River Valley.

Not so fast.

Facing the harsh reality of federal spending constraints, the veteran Democrat acknowledged he needs to scale back his plans.

“It’s going to be more difficult, and that’s why I have to be ealistic in what we can accomplish,” Peterson said, reflecting a significant hift in tone from previous months.

Peterson says he’s now hoping to get at least $300 million uaranteed toward boosting regional flood mitigation – but even that’s not a certainty.

This fall, a special committee of Congress will outline spending cuts for the federal budget.

However much the committee demands from agriculture will influence how much the Red River Valley might get for its water projects, Peterson said.
–In Forum

Wisconsin court hears dairy case
A long-running battle between the residents of one Rock County community and thereach of big dairy will come to a head when the first case to test the state’s livestock siting law will be heard before the state Supreme Court.

The law, which was approved in 2004 under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and a Republican-controlled Legislature, for
the first time outlined state standards for location, odor and air emissions, manure spreading and storage, and runoff management for new farms of all sizes or those that are looking to expand.

The law gave local governments the option of using the new state standards or adopting their own siting ordinances as long as they weren’t more restrictive than the state’s.

And that is the problem, say the eight families from the town of Magnolia who brought John Adams v. Wisconsin.

When their town board tried to place groundwater and manure-spreading stipulations on Larson Acres Inc., Rock County’s largest dairy farm, it was ultimately overruled by the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board.
–The Capital Times

Soil, water conservation on the farm honored

December 14, 2009

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

Fillmore Co. farmers honored for conservation
Dan and Sherry Hanson of Fillmore County were named the state’s Outstanding Conservationist at the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ annual meeting in Duluth. 

The couple also was named the MASWCD Area 7 winner. They operate a 150-cow cow-calf operation and farm more than 600 acres, raising hay, no-till corn and soybeans. They have implemented numerous conservation practices, including tree plantings, fall chisel plowing, minimum tillage, installing terraces and grassed waterways, and following a nutrient management plan. 

Dan and Sherry also are among 700-plus volunteers in southeastern Minnesota who participating in a nitrate monitoring project. They submit a water sample from their well twice a year to be tested by the SWCD for nitrate. The survey will provide baseline data to detect future trends in nitrate levels in that region of the state.
–The Farmer 

Melting glaciers reduce Bolivian water supply
When the tap across from her mud-walled home dried up in September,  Celia Cruz stopped making soups and scaled back washing for her family of five. She began daily pilgrimages to better-off neighborhoods, hoping to find water there. 

Though she has lived here for a decade and her husband, a construction worker, makes a decent wage, money cannot buy water.

“I’m thinking of moving back to the countryside; what else can I do?” said Ms. Cruz, 33, wearing traditional braids and a long tiered skirt as she surveyed a courtyard dotted with piglets, bags of potatoes and an ancient red Datsun. “Two years ago this was never a problem. But if there’s not water, you can’t live.” 

The glaciers that have long provided water and electricity to this part of Bolivia are melting and disappearing, victims of global warming, most scientists say.
–The New York Times 

Invasive Asian carp not found
Several days of workers netting fish revealed no Asian carp in the Calumet Sag Channel, the task force marshaled against the invasive species said.

The news provided a qualified measure of relief for a spot where evidence of carp genetic material had been found by testing weeks ago. “We’ve just bought some much-needed time on the clock to take the next step toward longer-term, sustainable solutions,” said Cameron Davis, a Great Lakes adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and President Barack Obama’s administration.

The announcement from the group of environmental, fisheries and municipal agencies came amid threats of lawsuits to close access between area rivers and canals and the Great Lakes and public consideration of more drastic steps to halt the species’ northward advance on the lakes. It comes on the heels of other puzzling non-appearances of the often ubiquitous fish. A single Asian carp was found downstream in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal after days of preventive rotenone poisoning killed thousands of other fish in waters where carp are known to exist.
–The Chicago Tribune 

California water plan lacks funding
When lawmakers celebrated the end of California’s water squabbles last month, they left unanswered an issue certain to bedevil their hard-fought compromise: money. 

Permanent funding for the signature policy initiatives in the deal— from a panel created to govern the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to new efforts to crack down on water theft — have yet to be identified. But one likely source is fees levied against water districts, which could lead to higher rates for users. 

There also have been whispers that lawmakers — sensitive to “pork” claims and the state’s dismal debt picture— might try to shrink the $11.14 billion bond approved as part of the deal, a bid to help it win voter support next November.
–The Mercury News

Dakota County to transfer Spring Lake land to DNR
Hunters of waterfowl have long flocked to the islands in the Mississippi River at Spring Lake Park Reserve near Hastings, drawn by mallards, wood ducks, teal and Canada geese. 

And in an unusual arrangement for a Dakota County park — where hunting, trapping and the like are typically prohibited except for a few times a year — that was just fine. It was tradition, after all. 

Now, a plan to pass the county-owned islands, some shoreline and a bundle of tax-forfeited property to the Minnesota DNR to create the 733-acre Spring Lake Islands Wildlife Management Area will guarantee hunters and trappers access in perpetuity.
–The Star Tribune 

Dairy pollution sparks New Mexico ‘manure war’
The picture on many milk cartons shows cows  grazing on a pasture next to a country barn and a silo — but the reality is very different.

More and more milk comes from confined animal feeding operations, where large herds live in feedlots, waiting their thrice daily trip to the milking barn. And a factory farm with 2,000 cows produces as much sewage as a small city, yet there’s no treatment plant. 

Across the country, big dairies are coming under increased criticism for polluting the air and the water. In New Mexico, they’re in the midst of a manure war.
–Southern California Public Radio 

EPA oversight draws flak in Florida
The EPA’s decision to set water pollution limits in Florida is quickly becoming a political issue — and given the potential effect on big business and big agriculture, one that is attracting a litany of special interests.

 Michael Sole, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary, briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday. All members, in particular Attorney General Bill McCollum who called the EPA’s actions “outrageous,” appear ready to go to court to challenge the federal government if they don’t like the number set in January. 

The forces aligned against the EPA — led by Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who expressed skepticism in global warming yesterday — are making presentations with heightened rhetoric about a standard that the federal government hasn’t even set yet. Likewise, the environmental groups that settled the lawsuit with the EPA continue to parade the same series of enlarged algae bloom photos to prove their point.

Judge halts Alaskan timber sale
A federal judge has halted a timber sale in a roadless area of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest that had been greenlighted by the Obama administration earlier this year. 

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ruled that the Forest Service must re-evaluate the sale due to changing economic conditions that have greatly reduced the revenue the proposed sale would bring. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in July had approved the Orion North sale, the first logging allowed in an area covered by the 2001 roadless rule since the secretary took personal responsibility for such decisions earlier this year. Environmental groups had filed a lawsuit in March challenging the proposed sale, which would allow Pacific Log and Lumber to harvest about 4.4 million board feet of timber.
–The New York Times

Climate change, ‘ugly’ species and catching rain

June 29, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and interntional news articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

U.S. House passes cap-and-trade


The House passed legislation intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy. 

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

 The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

 At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.

–The New York Times

Savings species moves past beauty contests

Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

 When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah’s Ark: Save everything.

 But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

 The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

–The Washington Post 

Colorado legalizes catching the rain

For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. 

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

–The New York Times

 Marines expand ‘gray water’ use

Camp Pendleton officials formally dedicated an upgraded water treatment system that includes one of Southern California’s most ambitious uses of recycled water.

 As part of a $48.8-million upgrade, treated wastewater will now be used on landscaping, horse pastures and the base golf course. Plans are to expand the water use to carwashes and to toilet facilities in enlisted quarters.

 The goal is to decrease the amount of fresh water used on the sprawling base and the amount of so-called gray water pumped into the Pacific Ocean.

 The base uses 6,000 to 7,000 acre-feet of water each year, most of it from wells and the San Luis Rey River. An acre-foot of water is enough for two families for a year.

The facilities unveiled have a capacity to provide 1,700 acre-feet a year of treated wastewater to sites throughout the base.

–The Los Angeles Times .

Sewage flows to L. Superior to end by 2016

Untreated sewage in Lake Superior should become a thing of the past in the Duluth area, but not for another seven years.

The city and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) have committed to end sewage overflows by the end of 2016, and to pay $400,000 in fines to state and federal pollution authorities for past violations.

 The overflows typically are caused by backups during heavy rain.

–The Star Tribune

Winona County dairy fined for pollution

Diamond K Dairy in Winona County has agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating state standards for odors and for allowing manure to discharge to a farm pond.  The dairy has taken some correction action with further plans to reduce odors and better control manure.

 The dairy, located in Mount Vernon Township near Altura, consists of six total confinement barns housing up to 1,066 dairy cows and 30 dairy calves.  The facility has three manure-storage basins, a manure solids stacking area, a dead animal composting area, and two feed-storage areas.  Owned by Al Kreidermacher and family members, the facility operates under the names of Diamond K Dairy, Inc. and Diamond K Feeds LLP.

Using continuous air-monitoring equipment, MPCA staff found that the facility violated state levels for hydrogen sulfide several times during 2008.  Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that is partially responsible for foul odors. 

 Also in 2008, the dairy allowed two spills of liquid manure to flow overland to a farm pond on the property.  The pond, classified as a water of the state, connects via a spillway to a trout stream less than a mile away, though none of the spilled manure reached the stream.

 The MPCA posts its enforcement actions at

–MPCA news release

 Art sought for exhibit on women and water rights

The University of Minnesota Department of Art and other sponsors are inviting artists to submit work – including postcard-size, mailed-in works – for an exhibit focused on women and the issue of water as a universal human right.

 The exhibit, titled “Women and Water Rights,” will be held Feb. 23 to March 25 at the university’s Regis Center for Art. It will include:

  • A worldwide mail art exhibit on the theme of water and related programs.
  • A juried exhibition of artwork investigating water rights as subject and material. Artists will be women or women/men collaborations from states that form the basin of the Upper Mississippi River — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Lectures.
  • Panel discussions, video screenings and interactive activities.

The deadline for submission of art for the juried exhibit is Nov. 2. The deadline for the mailed art is Jan. 15. Entry guidelines are available at

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae

When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people that some blue-green algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

 Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae can become harmful. Blue-green (cyanobacterial) algal blooms contain toxins or other noxious chemicals that can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing these toxins.

 There is no visual way to predict the toxicity of an algal bloom and distinguishing blue-green algae from other types may be difficult for non-experts. But harmful blooms are sometimes said to look like pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum.

They often smell bad as well. “You don’t have to be an expert to recognize water that might have a harmful algae bloom,” said Steve Heiskary, an MPCA lakes expert. “If it looks bad and smells bad, it’s probably best not to take chances with it.”

–MPCA news release

 Law requires conservation pricing in Twin Cities

When you brush your teeth, do you keep the water running? What about when you shave or do the dishes? That’s the kind of question homeowners may start asking themselves when their water bills arrive.

By the end of this year, all metro water utilities have to start charging for water in a way that encourages conservation. It’s part of a law passed in 2008.

Compared to a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk, water is cheap. In St. Louis Park, it costs less than a fraction of a penny per gallon. That may be why some people use it so freely.



Researcher questions mercury health risk

Researchers at the University of North Dakota say there’s new evidence that mercury levels in fish are not as dangerous as previously thought.

 Researchers at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks say the trace mineral selenium is just as important as the amount of mercury in fish.

 Research Scientist Nick Ralston said brain damage from mercury poisoning happens when mercury depletes selenium in the body. He said if fish contain more selenium than mercury, they are safe to eat.

He wants to see a new standard for fish consumption advisories.

 Minnesota’s fish consumption advisory coordinator is not convinced. Patricia McCann said the new research is not definitive and will not affect how Minnesota establishes fish consumption advisories.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Cuyahoga: A river, and a symbol, reborn

The first time Gene Roberts fell into the Cuyahoga River, he worried he might die. The year was 1963, and the river was still an open sewer for industrial waste. Walking home, Mr. Roberts smelled so bad that his friends ran to stay upwind of him.

Recently, Mr. Roberts returned to the river carrying his fly-fishing rod. In 20 minutes, he caught six smallmouth bass. “It’s a miracle,” said Mr. Roberts, 58. “The river has come back to life.”

June 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.

–The New York Times

Chicago skyscraper to go green

Wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels will join the pair of antennas atop the Sears Tower’s staggered rooftops, said building officials who announced that the skyscraper would undergo a $350 million green renovation.

The 5-year project would reduce the tower’s electricity use by 80 percent and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said. Separately, a 50-story, 500-room privately funded luxury hotel with its own green components would be built next to the skyscraper in 3 1/2 to 5 years.

The green project includes the installation of solar panels on the tower’s 90th floor roof to heat water used in the building. Different types of wind turbines will be positioned on the tower’s tiered roofs and tested for efficiency. And between 30,000 and 35,000 square feet of roof gardens will be planted.

–The Chicago Tribune

 Device may protect sea turtles from nets

Fishery managers trying to protect rare sea turtles from dying in fishing nets have chosen a Cape Cod company to build a device that they think can help balance turtle protection with profitable fishing.

 The device is a 7-inch silver cylinder that attaches to fishing nets and records how long they stay underwater. Time is crucial if the nets, dragged behind trawlers, snare a turtle. Federal research indicates that the vast majority of sea turtles survive entanglement, but only if the net is pulled up in less than 50 minutes.

–The New York Times

 Water a key issue in Mideast negotiations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must address the vital issue of water in the West Bank if meaningful peace talks are to take place.

 Israel’s leaders said nothing, but Abbas had touched on one of the most sensitive issues in the seemingly endless negotiations, which have been in abeyance for the last few years, and one on which any expectation of a comprehensive settlement will probably ultimately rest.

Israel’s unilateral control over rivers and aquifers meant scarce water resources were not being shared equitably “as required by international law,” he declared.

–United Press International

‘Water wars,’ bottled water and robo-carp

March 23, 2009

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

Specter of ‘water wars’ may be overblown
The United Nations warned recently that climate change harbours the potential for serious conflicts over water. In its World Water Development Report of March 2009, it quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting the risk of water scarcity “transforming peaceful competition into violence”. It is statements such as this that gave birth to popular notions of ‘water wars’. It is time we dispelled this myth. Countries do not go to war over water, they solve their water shortages through trade and international agreements.

Cooperation, in fact, is the dominant response to shared water resources. There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.

Florida considers charging water bottlers
Each day more than five million gallons of spring water is bottled in Florida, and companies pay almost nothing for local water permits. Florida is considering joining other states that have imposed “severance fees” on commercially bottled spring water. It would charge six cents for every gallon taken from springs or aquifers.
–National Public Radio

U.S. toxic chemical releases down slightly
The release of toxic chemicals to the air and water decreased across the country in 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Releases to the air decreased 7 percent, and releases to water declined 5 percent, according to a report issued by the agency.

The report shows increases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals like lead, dioxin, mercury and PCBs. Overall PBTs releases increased 1 percent. The increases were primarily due to a handful of facilities, and most of the releases reported were not to the air or water.

Total disposal or other releases of mercury increased 38 percent, but air emissions of mercury were down 3 percent. The majority of mercury releases were reported by the mining industry.

State-by-state data on facilities and releases to air, land and water can be found by accessing the EPA’s state fact sheet by clicking here.

Additional information on releases on zip code, county and facility can be found using the TRI explorer, accessible here.
–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Major bird populations decline
Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation’s landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have staved off potential extinctions of others.

“The State of the Birds” report, a broad analysis of data compiled from scientific and citizen surveys over 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report said, while populations of birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.
–The Washington Post

Invasives rules sought for Lake Minnetonka
The Lake Minnetonka Association is calling for emergency boat launch rules for the coming season to prevent the spread of zebra mussels into the lake.

An exploding population of zebra mussels in Lake Mille Lacs warrants emergency action to protect Lake Minnetonka, the association says. It wants to require that all boats be clean and dry, inside and out, before they enter the lake.

The lakeshore owners group is pushing the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which manages lake issues for the 14 cities ringing the lake, to adopt these ramp rules and step up efforts to protect the lake from invasive species. It is also asking the cities to work on the problem as well.
–Star Tribune

Caribbean fish populations down
Populations of both large and small fish have been declining sharply across the Caribbean in the past 10 years, say researchers, who combined data from 48 studies of 318 coral reefs conducted over more than 50 years.

The data show that fish “densities” that had held steady for decades began to drop significantly around 1995, a trend not reported previously. Although overfishing has long taken a toll on larger species, the drop in smaller species that are not fished indicates that other forces are at work, said author Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Drastic losses in coral cover and changes in coral reef habitats, driven by warming water temperatures and coral diseases, as well as sediment and pollution from coastal development could be among the factors.
–The Washington Post

Robotic carp developed to fight pollution
Robotic fish, developed by UK scientists, are to be released into the sea for the first time to detect pollution.
The carp-shaped robots will be let loose in the port of Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year research project.

If successful, the team hopes that the fish will used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world, including Britain, to detect pollution.

The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.

The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries with last around eight hours.
–The Telegraph

EPA sponsors video contest
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring a contest for the production of educational videos that will inspire people to help protect streams, lakes, wetlands, and coasts.

Two winners will each receive $2,500 and their videos will be featured on EPA’s Web site. The deadline for entry is Earth Day, April 29.

The contest has two categories: 30- or 60-second videos usable as a television public service announcement, and 1- to 3-minute instructional videos.

For information, go to contest rules on the EPA web site by clicking here.
–U.S. EPA web site

Dubuque museum works to save amphibians
Out of sight and tucked away under lock and key in the basement of the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, the tiny toads hopping about in climate controlled captivity might not seem sexy.

But when Lee Jackson, Abby Urban and Jerry Enzler begin to talk about their little guests, passion is just around the corner.

It’s a passion for preservation of the Wyoming toad, one of the four most endangered amphibian species in the United States, Urban points out. And one-tenth of the Wyoming toads in captivity are in her care.
–The Dubuque Telegraph Herald

European water use not sustainable, report says
European environmental officials warned that the continent does not have enough water to sustain current consumption levels.

The European Environment Agency issued a report that concluded the problem now applies to northern Europe as well as the south and cannot be addressed by expanding supplies alone.

“The short-term solution to water scarcity has been to extract ever greater amounts of water from our surface and groundwater assets,” said agency director Jacqueline McGlade. “Overexploitation is not sustainable.”
–United Press International

Fire-fighting foam, fish viruses and drowning corn

February 9, 2009

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

DNR inadvertently allows new fish virus into state
The state agency charged with protecting Minnesota’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry from diseases allowed a virus potentially dangerous to fish into the state last year.

Last May, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources mistakenly approved a shipment of 2,000 rainbow trout from Wisconsin to a rural Cloquet man, who legally purchased them and put them into his private pond.
– St. Paul Pioneer Press

Obama Administration begins to weigh Environmental Priorities
In his first weeks in office, President Obama has dismantled many environmental policies set by the Bush administration. But in some areas, he will be building on the work of his predecessor, rather than taking it apart.

Mr. Bush was not known for his concern over the environment. In the eight years of his tenure, he opened vast tracts of public lands to drilling, mining and timbering, earning the enmity of many environmentalists. His critics accused him of easing restrictions on polluters, subverting science and dragging his feet on global warming.
 The New York Times

PCA to study contamination from fire-fighting foam
Minnesota health officials are launching a major investigation into whether drinking water in 15 Minnesota cities is contaminated with chemicals formerly manufactured by 3M Co. and used in municipal fire-fighting foam .

The tests, set to begin next month, will be important to residents and fire officials in communities across the country where a 3M firefighting foam has been used for years in training exercises, often on city-owned property adjacent to municipal wells. The foam is flushed into storm sewers or left to seep into the ground, raising the possibility that drinking water has been affected.

“This could have national significance,” said Doug Wetzstein, supervisor in the superfund section at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Firefighters virtually everywhere have used the foam for decades, he said, at city practice areas, community college training courses, and especially at military bases, airports and refineries where jet fuel and other petroleum-based fires are a major concern.
–Star Tribune

Climate change prompts Arctic fishing ban
A federal fishery panel voted to close off a large swath of the Arctic sea to commercial fishing. The move was a pre-emptive measure to protect more than 150,000 square nautical miles north of the Bering Strait that have become more accessible as a result of the warming Arctic climate.
–The New York Times

Oregon legislation seeks dam removal dollars
Groups representing irrigators, fishermen and tribes urged Oregon lawmakers to approve a bill to increase power rates for PacifiCorp customers to pay for removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River .

The rate hike bill is needed to help put into effect a tentative deal reached last fall by state and federal officials calling for removal of the dams as a way to settle a decades-long water struggle in the Klamath Basin.

As a Senate panel opened hearings on the proposal, supporters said it would improve beleaguered salmon runs and provide stability for agriculture in the area.
–The Associated Press

Save the planet: Drown some corn stalks
A leading idea to fight global climate change is to permanently remove some of the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere.

Plants remove CO2 from the air through photosynthesis, incorporating the carbon in their tissues. So dumping corn stalks, wheat straw and other crop residues into the deep ocean, where cold and lack of oxygen would keep them from decomposing, would in effect sequester atmospheric CO2 on a time scale of millennia.
–The New York Times

Corn-based ethanol no better than gas, study finds
Corn ethanol is no better fuel than gasoline, and it may even be worse for air quality, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

The study is the first one to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from three different fuels — gasoline, corn-based ethanol and cellulosic (plant-based) ethanol — its authors say.

Scientists and economists looked at life-cycle emissions of growing, harvesting, producing and burning different fuels, and concluded that ethanol made from switchgrass and other plant materials is far better than either corn ethanol or gasoline.
–The Star Tribune

Under-ocean lab studies climate change
A crane on a ship deck hoisted a 502-pound video camera and plopped it into the ocean for a 3,000-foot descent to the world of neon-glowing jellyfish, bug-eyed red rock cod and other still unknown slithery critters.

The so-called Eye-in-the-Sea camera would be added to the first observatory operating in deep sea water and become part of a new kind of scientific exploration to assess the impacts of climate change on marine life.
–The Associated Press

San Diego considers fee-based water conservation
In drafting their newest proposal to cope with drought, San Diego’s leaders said they favor empowerment over enforcement .

The emerging plan minimizes efforts to police people’s behavior, such as restricting days for lawn watering, and instead allocates water to customers based on their usage in 2006 and 2007.

Residents and businesses would use their monthly “budget” as they see fit. If they go over the cap, they would get hit with fees up to five times the regular cost of water.
–San Diego Union-Tribune

Mining Alberta’s oil sands demand lots of water
An awe-struck James Smith, chairman of Shell UK, reflects as he surveys the huge Muskeg River Mine in Canada’s Albertan oil sands . “It’s big,” he says.

Certainly, standing 25 metres down in a 15km squared oil sands quarry puts the scale of the operation in perspective. Here the world’s largest trucks transport 400 tonnes of tar sands in each haul – just four grabs of the even larger excavator’s claw. The truck tyres are twice the height of an ordinary human being.

“I’ve worked in the world’s largest goldmine [in Indonesia] and this is much bigger,” observes Todd Dahlman, Shell Canada’s mining operations manager. Muskeg River Mine has a design capacity of 155,000 barrels per day (bpd) of bitumen, a heavy crude oil that, once mined, is separated from the sand using warm water. It is run by Albian Sands Energy, a joint venture between Shell Canada (60%), Marathon Oil Canada (20%) and Chevron Canada (20%).

Washington State wells mine Ice Age Water
A groundwater-mapping study that tracks how water trickles under Eastern Washington shows deep wells in four counties are in deep trouble.

The two-year study done by the Columbia Basin Groundwater Management Area, based in Othello, found that aquifer levels are dropping fast, that most deep wells in the study area are drawing water left from the ice-age floods at least 10,000 years ago, and that there is virtually no chance Lake Roosevelt is recharging deep wells in Eastern Washington’s driest counties.
–Tri-City Herald

Wolves owe black coats to dogs, research shows
In a bit of genetic sleuthing, a team of researchers has determined that black wolves and coyotes in North America got their distinctive color from dogs that carried a gene mutation to the New World.

The finding presents a rare instance in which a genetic mutation from a domesticated animal has benefited wild animals by enriching their “genetic legacy,” the scientists write in Thursday’s Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science. Because black wolves are more common in forested areas than on the tundra, the researchers concluded that melanism — the pigmentation that resulted from the mutation — must give those animals an adaptive advantage.
–The New York Times

Ground water depletion turns Calcutta water saline
Calcutta’s water is turning saline, forcing many parts of the city to depend on bottled water to dilute the mineral monster.

There is not a drop to drink in Santoshpur, for instance, which has been left with only saline water in its underground poolin the wake of a real estate boom. In some other crowded areas, tubewells are being sunk deeper than 700 feet to find fresh water.
–The Telegraph

California lawsuit filed over salmon
Conservation and fishermen’s groups filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court seeking to force state and regional water boards to implement existing clean water laws in the wild rivers and streams of the state’s North Coast region.

The groups argue that only cleaner waters will enable the recovery of endangered salmon species.

For decades, water quality in North Coast river and streams has been degraded by sediment, nutrients, high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, and turbidity. These pollutants are the result of dam construction, water diversions, urban development, agriculture, logging, mining, and grazing.
–Environmental News Service

Write sustainability into your travel itinerary
From diesel buses kept running outside ancient ruins, their engines driving the air conditioning for those trooping around the historic site, to the polluting effects of the airplanes that transport us around the world, travel is an easy target these days for those who would see us reduce our environmental impact.

But travel can also be positive — it can contribute to the viability of local communities, it can connect people to cultures around the world, and it can even open our eyes to where we can help the world the most.

So, is it possible to travel without damaging the world?
– Calgary Herald

Blackduck man fined for filling wetlands
A Blackduck man has been found guilty of major wetlands violations in Itasca County. The violations were part of the Wetland Conservation Act, administered by local counties with support from by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Jeffery R. Swanson, 40, was sentenced to pay more than $15,000 in fines and fees, placed on a two-year unsupervised probation and had 180 days in jail stayed for two years.
–The Bemidji Pioneer

Saving water helps some mosquitoes
Mosquitoes have an unwitting new ally in the war on infectious diseases—conservationists. Turns out that, for mosquitoes carrying dengue-fever, environmentally conscious humans may be aiding the invasion. That’s the finding of a study published in the journal Functional Ecology.

In Australia, severe drought has led citizens to capture and store rainwater. While that’s good for water conservation, the resulting array of water-storage tanks provides the perfect breeding ground for an army of mosquitoes.
–Scientific American

Conserving water — one flush at a time

December 19, 2008

By Patrick Sweeney

I don’t think I ever wasted a lot of water. But since I started working for the Freshwater Society, and started reading and writing about water shortages and water conservation on a regular basis, I’ve become much more conscious about wasting water.

Last summer, I decided to incrementally raise the level of conservation I practice. It’s been a good experience for my wife and me, and it was even better for the four tomato plants we raised in pots on our deck.

I began the effort by getting an old two-gallon plastic bucket out of my basement and putting it in my bathtub.

Now, every morning my wife or I – whoever takes the first shower of the day – places the bucket under the tub spigot and runs the water until it gets warm. Even though we live in an old two-story home and the hot water heater is set nearly as low as it will go, the shower gets warm before the bucket fills.

It’s easy and it saves about one and three-quarters of gallons of water a day. In the summer, we carried the water downstairs and distributed it among the tomato plants.

Since the tomato plants went to the compost pile, we have used the saved water to flush the toilet. Just lift the lid and pour in a gallon or so and there is a real flush, just as if you had tripped the lever on the tank.

I estimate we’re saving 10 gallons of water a week on top of the conservation measures we already had begun to practice – but more about that later.

I checked my water billing records, and we used about 51,000 gallons of water in 2006, about 50,000 in 2007 and about 32,000 between November of 2007 and November of 2008.

By comparison, the average residential customer in St. Paul, where we live, uses about 66,000 gallons.

The 32,000 gallons we used this year breaks down to about 44 gallons a day for my wife and me.

That still sounds like a huge number, and it is. But it’s a lot smaller than the 80 to 100 gallons per day that the U.S. Geological Survey says most Americans use. And it’s significantly below the 75 gallons a day per person that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tells cities to aim for as an upper limit on household water consumption.

Are we saving money by catching the shower water? Not much.

At 10 gallons a week, we’ll save 520 gallons in a year. There are 748 gallons in 100 cubic feet of water, and in St. Paul we pay $1.86 per 100 cubic feet in the winter and $1.96 in the summer.

So we will save about $1.30 a year by catching that shower water.

But it’s not about saving money. It is about saving water. We’re not scrimping on water, we haven’t changed our lifestyle, we haven’t bought any new appliances — but we’ve become a lot more conscious about trying to not waste water.

We never have been big lawn waterers, and our grass showed it during much of last summer. We watered our tomato plants, our flowers and our trees, but we let the grass get brown and crunchy in mid-summer. By fall, our lawn – at least the part that isn’t heavily shaded — came back, every bit as green as the grass across the fence that was sprinkled nearly every day.

Watering lawns and gardens is one of the biggest household uses of water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that half of all the water put on lawns is wasted, and the EPA estimates that waste adds up to 1.5 billion gallons of water a day.

In addition to limiting our outdoor water use, my wife has always been frugal about setting the washing machines for smaller loads when she can, and she often rearranges the glasses to get a few more in the dishwasher after I’ve loaded it.

Another place where we have managed to save a fairly significant amount of water over the last year was our toilet. Don’t tell my kids, but we’ve started flushing a lot less than we once did. We follow that advice you sometimes see on little plaques in lake cabins with septic systems: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

I’ve never tried to keep track of much all those flushes not flushed. But it’s probably six to eight a day between the two of us.. At 1.5 or so gallons per flush, we’re saving several thousand gallons a year. If we had not replaced the toilet a couple of years ago, we would be saving twice that.

At the Freshwater Society web site, we’ve got some fact sheets on what you can do to conserve water. One of the fact sheets tells the story of a Chanhassen family that won a city-sponsored conservation contest by cutting their summertime water use by 64 percent.

Tell us what you do to save water.