Posts Tagged ‘dead zone’

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

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Flooding may increase ‘dead zone’

June 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.

Flooding may increase this year’s ‘dead zone’
As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Dead zones have been occurring in the gulf since the 1970s, and studies show that the main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fertilizers and animal manure in river runoff. They settle in at the mouth of the gulf and fertilize algae, which prospers and eventually starves other living things of oxygen.

 Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.

 For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.
–The New York Times

Philadelphia begins $2 billion stormwater effort
Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia have embarked on what environmental officials say is the largest project in the U.S. to reduce stormwater pollution through eco-friendly measures, such as porous asphalt and rooftop gardens.

 The state and city, the country’s fifth largest with 1.5 million people, signed a “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, kicking off a 25-year, $2 billion effort to modify infrastructure to reduce the amount of rainwater tainted with road oil, litter and raw sewage flowing into rivers and streams.

 Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and national environmental groups said the initiative should serve as a blueprint for cities and towns nationwide. The changes are expected to reduce by 5 billion to 8 billion gallons the amount of sewer overflow going into the city’s waterways each year, including the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. That represents an 80 percent to 90 percent reduction.

“Philadelphia is setting the national model for how to clean up troubled waterways, and how to do it right,” said Lawrence Levine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental advocacy groups that helped the city develop the plan.
–The Associated Press

 Food consumes vast quantities of water
“We’re using tomorrow’s water to meet today’s food demand,” warned Sandra Postel, National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, helping to provoke a meaningful discussion on water as it relates to food at the Aspen Environmental Forum. Agriculture was a central theme as it consumes a disproportionate share of global water resources.

Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota painted a picture of our inefficiency. “One liter of water is needed to irrigate one calorie food, but that changes by factor of 100 for the most inefficient practices.” It is clear that water efficiency improvements for agriculture must play a large role.

 One challenge is to gain an accurate understanding of the issue because allocation of water resources is not easily visible. Postel explained the concept of “virtual water” to paint a clearer picture. 

Water is a direct and indirect component of everything we use, make and eat. The average American consumes 2,000 gallons of water per day and more than half is incorporated into our diet. Grain represents the trading currency for water in the same way that oil is a trading currency for energy.
–National Geographic News Watch

 Buy some Patagonia shoes, support Freshwater
The Freshwater Society will benefit from Patagonia’s Our Common Waters conservation campaign, aimed at balancing human water consumption with the needs of animals and plants.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing gear chain,  will donate $10 to Freshwater for every pair of  Patagonia shoes sold at its St. Paul store through the end of June..

The store is at 1648 Grand Avenue, St. Paul.  A Freshwater representative will greet customers and provide information about the Freshwater Society at the store from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.

Patagonia, based in Ventura, Calif., annually donates at least 1 percent of its sales receipts to environmental groups.

Workshops set on conservation and GIS
Are you a GIS – geographic information systems – specialist? Do you work for an environmental organization that needs to better target scarce resources to areas where they will do the most good?

 Learn how use terrain analysis tools such as LiDAR to plan and place conservation activities where they are most needed.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the University of Minnesota have extend edthe registration deadline for workshops June 15 in Moorhead and June 20 in Marshall. 

 The workshops are designed for GIS technicians-specialists from organizations that decide where to locate land conservation practices, such as easements or best management practices. For detailed information on the workshops and to register, go to:
http://www.bwsr.state.mn.us/training/EcoRankingFlyer.pdf

The training sessions are coordinated by Ann Lewandowski  of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.  Contact her at 612-624-6765 or alewand@umn.edu.
–News Release

Are wild horses an invasive species?
Animal rights groups are pressing a case in federal court maintaining that wild horses roamed the West about 1.5 million years ago and didn’t disappear until as recently as 7,600 years ago. More important, they say, a growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that today’s horses are genetically linked to those ancient ancestors.

 The new way of thinking, if accepted, could affect hundreds millions of acres in the West where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management divides livestock grazing allotments based partly on the belief that the horses are no more native to those lands than are the cattle brought to North America centuries ago.

 American history textbooks teach that the wild horses roaming Western plains were first brought by European explorers and settlers. But that theory is being challenged at archaeological digs and university labs as horse protection advocates battle the U.S. government over roundups of thousands of mustangs they say have not only a legal right but a native claim to the rangeland.

Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for Defense of Animals and other plaintiffs, told a 9th Circuit appellate panel in San Francisco earlier this year that the horses are “an integral part of the environment,” adding, “as much as the BLM would like to see them as not, they are actually a native species. They are tied to this land. There would not be a horse but for North America. Every single evolutionary  iteration of the horse is found here and only here.”
–The Los Angeles Times

China plans $62 billion river diversion
North China is dying.

A chronic drought is ravaging farmland. The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill.

Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.

 The engineering feat, called the South-North Water Diversion Project, is China’s most ambitious attempt to subjugate nature. It would be like channeling water from the Mississippi River to meet the drinking needs of Boston, New York and Washington.
–The New York Times

New York suit seeks ‘fracking’ review
A top New York State official filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force an assessment of the environmental risks posed by drilling for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin, arguing that a regulatory commission should not issue final rules governing the drilling until a study is completed.

The suit, filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn by Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, involves the Delaware River Basin Commission, a regional regulatory agency. Made up of the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers,   it is preparing to issue regulations intended to bring some uniformity to the rules applied to a controversial type of gas extraction that combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.

 The method involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground under high pressure to free pockets of gas from dense rock formations. The agency estimates that there could one day be more than 10,000 wells in the Delaware River Basin, a 13,500-square-mile expanse that includes a portion of the New York City watershed and reaches into parts of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Green, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties.
–The New York Times

Beware of 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 reminds people that some types of 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, particularly a type called “blue-green algae,” 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 toxic blue-green algae.

 Most algae are harmless.  However blue-green algae, when sunlight and warmth cause them to “bloom” in dense populations, can produce toxins and other chemicals.  There are many types of blue-green algae.  They are found throughout Minnesota, but thrive particularly in warm, shallow, nutrient-rich lakes.  

An animal that has ingested toxins from an algae bloom can show a variety of symptoms, ranging from skin irritation, vomiting, severe disorders involving the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems, and severe skin lesions.  In worst cases, the animal may suffer convulsions and die.

 Humans are not affected very often, probably because the unpleasant appearance and odors of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water.  But human health effects can include irritation of skin, eyes and nasal passages, and nausea and vomiting. 

For information about harmful algae blooms, go to www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp-toxicalgae.html or call 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA News Release

Bridge work closes part of Minnehaha Creek
A stretch of Minnehaha Creek in Edina will be closed to canoeists and kayakers from until mid-July to make way for a bridge improvement project.  For safety reasons, the creek will be closed to canoeists and kayakers between the Browndale Dam and the landing at 58th Street in Pamela Park.  Signs along along  the creek inform people about the project.

Check the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District website for updates. 
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release

Celebrate summer, the Mississippi River and clean water

Dancers — some in kayaks on the Mississippi River, some on rooftops near the historic Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis – will celebrate summer at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 25.

 This event will be one of 45 Global Water Dances performed across six continents on June 25.  This year’s performances focuses on global water issues and access to clean and safe drinking water. Partners in the project include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the university of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie, KBEM, Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio, and Earth Spirit Environments Inc.

Hamline University School of Education’s Center for Global Environmental Education provides public information about the care and health of the river. For information click here.

Measuring groundwater from spaceScientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s  gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water.

They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state’s $30 billion agriculture industry.

Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling here, said the center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, known as Grace, relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.
–The New York Times

Gulf may see a record ‘dead zone’

August 9, 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.

Gulf ‘dead zone’ is one of the biggest
The annual Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” – a low-oxygen region of seawater that appears each spring and summer and either snuffs marine life or sends it fleeing – is one of the largest on record this year.

That’s the assessment of a team of scientists who wrapped up a cruise to take the dead zone’s measure. This year it’s roughly the size of Massachusetts and stretches from off of Galveston, Tex., east to the Mississippi’s “bird’s foot” delta.

The patch off of Texas is particularly noteworthy, says Nancy Rabalais, a marine scientist and director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dr. Rabalais heads the annual survey effort.

 This year’s is the largest oxygen-deprived area seen off of the Texas coast since she and her team began conducting the surveys in 1985, she says. Indeed, the dead zone’s “total area probably would have been the largest if we had had enough time to completely map the western part.” 

The dead zone forms each spring and summer as snowmelt and rainfall in the Mississippi River’s vast drainage basin leach nutrients from farm fields and to a lesser extent from urban landscapes along the river and its tributaries.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 U.S. environmental officials seek Minnesota input
Lisa Jackson, the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and top officials of other federal agencies with responsibility for the environment came to the Twin Citites on Aug. 4 for a “listening session” seeking citizen input as the Obama administration plans a new national agenda for conservation.

 In a meeting at the University of Minnesota that was attended by about 300 people, the administration officials asked for suggestions on four topics:

  • What is working well in promoting conservation and outdoor recreation?
  •  What obstacles keep people from connecting with the outdoors?
  • How can the federal government be a more effective partner with state and local groups working on conservation?
  •  What additional tools would help the state and local organizations?

 Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the listening session and the officials’ visit to Minnesota. For more information about the national initiative, or to submit on-line comments, click here.

 Chicago’s Asian carp may have been put there
A 3-foot-long Asian carp discovered in a Chicago waterway near Lake Michigan appears to have spent most of its life there and may have been planted by humans who didn’t know what type of fish it was or the environmental risk it posed, researchers said.
Tests of chemical markers in the bighead carp suggest it was not a recent arrival to the waterway and probably did not get there by evading an electric barrier meant to prevent the species from infesting the Great Lakes, said Jim Garvey, a fisheries biologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

He acknowledged the findings were not certain because of incomplete data and were based on a number of assumptions.
–The Associated Press 

Scientists question rosy assessment of Gulf spill
The “greatest environmental disaster” in U.S. history — which has appeared at times to leave a high-control White House powerless — seemed to have lost its power to scare.

A few hours after BP’s well was declared virtually dead, the Obama administration announced that only about 26 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was unaccounted for.

“A significant amount of this,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts.”

But, in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.
–The Washington Post

 DNR sues over lakeshore set-back variance
As more homes creep closer to Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lakeshore, the state Department of Natural Resources is pushing back by suing a western Minnesota township that allowed a property owner to build a house 14 feet from Ida Lake. The rare move could signal a new statewide emphasis on controlling building on waterfront land.

 “This is a shot across the bow on the part of DNR,” said Brad Karkkainen, an environmental law expert at the University of Minnesota.

 Karkkainen said the new suit against Cormorant Township will send a message to localities that are allowing more buildings — often expansive vacation homes — that exceed state standards for size and distance from the water’s edge and create polluting stormwater runoff. “The importance of the suit,” he said, “is in setting a policy precedent that DNR will use state resources to prosecute.”
–The Star Tribune

Water study probes DEET insect repellent
DEET may be safe to spray on your skin, but not to swallow in drinking water.

To see how safe or unsafe it is, the Minnesota Department of Health has picked the popular insect repellent ingredient as the first of seven “chemicals of emerging concern” to assess during the next year. 

“We shower, it goes down the drain, and it ends up in wastewater that goes into rivers,” said state toxicologist Helen Goeden. 

Like many compounds, there are no state or federal standards for DEET, yet it has been detected in water samples nationwide, including Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Huge Everglades restoration keeps shrinking
For the third and likely last time, Gov. Charlie’s Crist’s controversial Big Sugar deal is being dramatically downsized.

With their budget squeezed by a brutal economy and two major legal defeats, South Florida water managers have proposed yet another major whack at a land buy once so bold and bright that environmentalists touted it as the holy grail of Everglades restoration: Buy out the entire U.S. Sugar Corp. — lock, stock and all 180,000-plus acres — for $1.75 billion and convert much of the massive swath of farms into water storage and cleanup projects. 

The fragments now left on the table: $197 million cash for 26,800 acres, most of it citrus groves, and “options” to buy the rest at $7,400 an acre over the next three years or at market price over the next decade.
–The Miami Herald 

Scientists probe California estuary
Scientists tasked with unraveling one of the nation’s most vexing environmental puzzles started their first field trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at a fish processing facility here near one of the estuary’s major water-pumping stations. 

Assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists — 15 experts in estuarine ecology, hydrology, fisheries science and water resources engineering — were gathering information for a series of reports that could influence management of the West Coast’s largest estuary for decades to come.

The stakes for the two-year study are high. All around the delta, demand for water is growing — water for endangered fish, for farms and for 25 million people. Political pressure from California’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and others finally forced the White House to order the review this spring.
–The New York Times
 

Florida contest saves tons of water
Gary and Linda Rogers are turning blue into green. 

The Cooper City couple saved $117 by reducing their water usage by 27,000 gallons in just three months. 

They weren’t the only ones. 

When the city’s utilities department issued a three-month water conservation challenge, 12 teams of Cooper City homeowners signed on. The competition pitted two local homeowners’ associations — the Homes at Forest Lake and Reflections at Rock Creek — to see who could save the most water. 

“Water conservation is not a new concept. We just wanted to make it more visible and try to engage folks a little more,” said Mike Bailey, director of utilities.
–The Miami Herald 

Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
Worried about tapping out their wells and the possible risk of pollution, nearly a dozen Lake County communities have pushed a plan to allow them to draw their water from Lake Michigan.

The $252 million proposal, which needs approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, calls for pumping water from a proposed new treatment plant at Zion and running it through 57 miles of new pipelines.

Towns involved in the project now get their water from wells that tap into an aquifer in the bedrock. Some communities are running low, officials say.

“We’re seeing severe depletion,” said Matt Formica, Lindenhurst village administrator. The village has nine functioning shallow wells. “Two are on their last legs. We have to do something. … We’re running out of water.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Invasive spiny waterfleas spread to Burntside L.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed that spiny waterfleas were discovered in Burntside Lake near Ely recently. They were discovered by an angler when he observed them collecting on fishing lines in the water.

 “Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR invasive species specialist. “Although the waterfleas can die between fishing trips, they might be carrying resting eggs that can begin a new infestation.” 

Spiny waterfleas are currently found in Lake Superior, Mille Lacs Lake, Fish Lake, and the U.S.-Canadian border waters such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake as well as lakes on the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marias.

 Spiny waterfleas can collect in masses, entangling on fishing lines, downrigger cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only one-fourth to five-eighths inch long.

 Experts believe spiny waterfleas originally arrived in the U.S. from Eurasia in the ballast water of cargo ships. They were first found in Lake Superior in 1987.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Research: Gulf oil dispersants not likely to be EDCs
Government researchers are reporting that eight of the most commonly used oil dispersants used to fight oil spills, such as those being used in the Gulf of Mexico, appear unlikely to act as endocrine disruptors.

More than 1.5 million gallons of oil spill dispersants — a combination of one or more surfactants with the ability to emulsify oil and a hydrocarbon-based solvent to break up large clumps of high molecular weight — have been used recently in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The NIH and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study to measure the potential for endocrine disruption with eight oil spill dispersants. The researchers applied a rapid screening method using mammalian cells to determine the eight dispersants’ potential to act as endocrine disruptors and relative toxicity to living cells.

The tested dispersants also had a relatively low potential for cytotoxicity with JD-2000 and SAF-RON GOLD showing the least potential. Cytotoxicity was not seen until dispersants were tested at concentrations above 10 parts per million, according to the researchers.
–Edocrine Today

Wisconsin adopts sweeping phosphorus rules

June 28, 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.

Wisconsin DNR adopts phosphorus rules
The Natural Resources Board approved sweeping and costly new regulations to limit phosphorus in state waterways that could top $1 billion.

The goal is cleaner water, fewer algae blooms and a better habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Phosphorus pollution from runoff is one of the contributing factors to the foul-smelling algae on Lake Michigan’s beaches. 

The measure was championed by the DNR and environmentalists, but the state hasn’t identified a way to finance a cost-sharing program, and business groups said the burden will fall unfairly on them. 

The regulations take a two-pronged approach by setting water quality standards for phosphorus and by putting new limits on municipal wastewater treatment plants and factories that have their own treatment systems. 

In turn, the water quality standards drive a complex series of regulations aimed at controlling phosphorus and other nutrients washed from farm fields, construction sites and urban streets.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Minnesota may seek pollution damages from 3M
3M Company may be liable for damage to natural resources because of chemicals that contaminated Mississippi River fish and tainted groundwater beneath much of the east metro area. State officials have met with 3M several times during the past few weeks, and said they hope to resolve the problems through negotiations rather than litigation. 

3M phased out the compounds in 2002 after making them for nearly half a century at its Cottage Grove plant. They were used in numerous products including Scotchgard, non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. The company dumped wastes in area landfills and at the plant decades ago, before those practices were illegal. The chemicals spread to contaminate nearby ground and river water. 

“For the past three years we’ve been focused on cleanup, on getting that moving forward,” said Kathy Sather, director of remediation for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “The time is right now for us to look at the natural resource damage that’s always part of the remediation that we do.”

Sather would not speculate on how much the damages might be.
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp caught close to Lake Michigan
A commercial fisherman patrolling the calm waters of Lake Calumet netted a 19-pound Asian carp, the first physical discovery of the feared invasive species in the Chicago waterway system north of the electric barriers.

Within minutes of the official announcement, lawmakers from Michigan and environmental advocacy groups were once more chastising Illinois’ response to the Asian carp crisis and threatening a new round of legal action aimed at permanently closing Chicago-area shipping locks.

“This was so tragically predictable,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who is among the architects of the Carp Act, a bill in Congress that would close the shipping locks. “For years, myself and so many others have raised concerns over this issue and were criticized for it or told we were overreacting. Today, our worst fears have been confirmed.”
–The Chicago Tribune 

Stunning levels of toxins found in whales
Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood. 

A report noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

 “These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean,” said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.
–The Associated Press

Minerals exploration near BWCA raises concerns
A new partnership between an Ely, Minn., company and a mining giant in Chile has spurred progress on copper and nickel exploration in northern Minnesota. 

But because some of the new exploration is in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, it’s raising concerns among residents and other observers. 

Ely-based Duluth Metals, with financial backing from the Chilean company Antofogasta, has drilled some 170 test holes in a 1,500-acre tract near the South Kawishiwi River and thinks the results are promising.

Duluth Metals is among six companies exploring for minerals near the boundary waters. The companies are drilling deep holes, probing huge deposits of valuable copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

Some question risk of BP drilling in Alaska
The future of BP’s offshore oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico has been thrown into doubt by the recent drilling disaster and court wrangling over a moratorium. 

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters. 

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort. 

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.
–The New York Times

 EPA seeks tax renewal for Superfund clean-ups
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Congress in support of reinstating the lapsed Superfund “polluter pays” taxes. Superfund is the federal government’s program that investigates and cleans up the nation’s most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. 

 If reinstated, the Superfund provision would provide a stable, dedicated source of revenue for the program and increase the pace of Superfund cleanup. It would also ensure that parties who benefit from the manufacture or sale of substances that commonly cause environmental problems at hazardous waste sites, and not taxpayers, help bear the cost of cleanup when responsible parties cannot be identified.

The Superfund taxes expired on Dec. 31, 1995. Since the expiration of the taxes, Superfund program funding has been largely financed from General Revenue transfers to the Superfund Trust Fund, thus burdening the taxpayer with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites. The administration is proposing to reinstate the taxes as they were last in effect on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances that use hazardous chemicals as a feedstock, and on corporate modified alternative minimum taxable income.
More information on the Superfund program: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/
–EPA News Release 

Early spring brings bumper crop of watermilfoil
The weeds on Lake Calhoun have grown so thick this year that it almost looks as if the Minneapolis lake has islands.

 Much of it is Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive species that has taken over in most lakes in the Twin Cities and elsewhere throughout the state. The milfoil has become a common sight, but this year’s warm spring means it has hit its peak earlier than usual. 

The weeds tickle swimmers’ legs and feet and make it harder for boats — especially sailboats — to navigate the lake without getting stuck. 

“It’s just gotten progressively worse, and this is the worst year we’ve had,” said Mike Elson, who leads the Calhoun Yacht Club and has been sailing on Lake Calhoun since 1979.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

California suit challenges groundwater pumping
Commercial fisherman have filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of not leaving enough water in a Northern California river for coho salmon. 

The lawsuit says the State Water Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County allowed groundwater well permits that have depleted the Scott River. 

The plaintiffs say the endangered coho salmon are now on the verge of extinction in the river. 

A spokesman at the State Resources Water Control Board, William L. Rukeyser, says the lawsuit appears to raise many theories about pumping that are not established in California law.
–The Associated Press

 A solar economy – We’re already living in one
We have a solar-based economy, whether or not we realize it. Ninety-four percent of the world’s energy comes from the sun, even energy that doesn’t at first glance seem solar. Coal, oil and natural gas are mostly the products of ancient plants that grew with the sun’s help. The sun drives hydroelectric power by evaporating low-lying water, then dumping it at higher altitudes. Windmills turn because the sun warms the planet’s air unevenly. 

Fortunately, there’s plenty of sun to go around. Our local star is continuously transmitting 180 quadrillion watts of energy to the Earth, 14,000 times our requirements for generating power. So the question isn’t where to get our energy, but how to capture it. 

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, are our most identifiable effort to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. They depend on a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect, discovered in 1839 by a French teenager. Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, then 19, placed two metal plates in a salt solution and generated an electric current by simply placing his rig in the sun.
–The Washington Post 

Ban on genetically modified alfalfa overturned
In its first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ban on the planting of alfalfa seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. 

The decision was a victory for Monsanto and others in the agricultural biotechnology industry, with potential implications for other cases, like one involving genetically engineered sugar beets. 

But in practice the decision is not likely to measurably speed up the resumption of planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa.
–The New York Times 

Improvement predicted in Chesapeake ‘dead  zone’
The fish-smothering “dead zone” now forming in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay is likely to be one of the smallest in the past 25 summers, scientists predicted , a brighter outlook they credited to favorable weather as well as to long-running efforts to clean up the estuary.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science forecast that this summer will produce the fifth-smallest stretch of water in the bay’s depths deprived of the oxygen that fish, crabs and oysters need to breathe.

Whether that means the bay is on the road to recovery depends on which scientist you ask.
–The Baltimore Sun 

Taconite mill to pay $19,000 in air-quality case
ArcelorMittal Mine Inc. recently agreed to pay a $19,000 civil penalty for alleged air quality violations and will be required to complete corrective actions to bring the facility back into compliance within 45 days, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced.  

The company owns and operates a taconite production facility in Virginia, Minn. The facility processes taconite ore and produces pellets for iron-making.  

ArcelorMittal’s air quality permit, issued in 2007, regulates equipment emissions and sets allowable operating ranges for air pollution control devices at several stages of the production process. Company monitoring reports submitted between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2009 documented a number of deviations from air pollution control equipment permit requirements and allowable operating parameters.
–MPCA News Release 

 Grants, loans available for water protection
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking grant proposals from local government units and other entities interested in leading a nonpoint-source, pollution-control project. Priority for funding will be given to projects that protect waters currently meeting state water quality standards. 

The due date for proposals is 4:30 p.m., Aug. 13. 

 The MPCA anticipates there will be $2 million available for grants and $2 million for loans this year. Eligible applicants include watershed districts, Indian tribes, cities and counties, joint powers organizations and watershed management organizations. There is a $500,000 limit on each grant funding request and no limit for a loan request. Proposals must be sent electronically to CWP.Grant.PCA@ state.mn.us. 

This year, the MPCA will offer funds for two types of projects:

  • Resource investigation to monitor, assess and develop a diagnostic study for water bodies, along with a plan to implement activities that address the needs of the water bodies.
     
  • Implementation of activities already identified by a comprehensive assessment and planning process in the watershed or area around the water body of concern. 

For information, go www.pca.state.mn.us/water/cwp-319.html.
–MPCA News Release

Progress seen on curly-leaf pondweed
Two years after Eden Prairie’s Anderson Lakes were drained in an experiment with natural weed control, rain is finally filling them up again and early results are encouraging:

The weeds, after back-to-back cold treatments, seem to be in retreat.

Northwest and Southwest Anderson Lakes were drained in the fall of 2008 to expose the lake beds to a winter freeze in an attempt to kill unwanted curly-leaf pondweed. The freeze targeted burrlike buds embedded in the lake bed that allow the weed to reproduce.
–The Star Tribune

 

 

‘Dead zones’ expand; ag-water conference set

March 15, 2010

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

Ocean ‘dead zones’ spreading
Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth’s oceans, particularly off the United States’ Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.

 They warn that the oceans’ complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

In some spots off Washington state and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.

 Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
–McClatchy Newspapers

Minnesota summit set on ag and water quality
The Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America — in partnership with the Freshwater Society — has scheduled  the 2010 Wetlands Summit, Agriculture and Water Summit 2010: Keeping Water on the Land for Conservation and Production.

The conference will be Saturday, March 27, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

The goal of the conference is to connect farmers, researchers, conservationists, students, and anyone interested in working together to protect  water resources while ensuring productive farms.

The morning session will feature Bruce Wilson and Gary Sands from the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering discussing the history of agricultural drainage in Minnesota and current strategies for conserving water in the soil and reducing the flow of nitrogen to surface waters. A panel discussion will feature Warren Formo from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition; Tim Larson from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Tony Thompson, a corn, soybean and native plant farmer from Windom; and Martin Jaus, an organic milk producer.

The keynote speech will be given by Jon Foley, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment titled The Other Inconvenient Truth: A Global Challenge for Agriculture and the Environment” addressing the challenges of feeding our growing world population while protecting the land and water resources necessary to sustain the planet.

Aging water mains fail across the U.S.
One recent morning, George S. Hawkins, a long-haired environmentalist who now leads one of the largest and most prominent water and sewer systems, trudged to a street corner here where water was gushing into the air. 

A cold snap had ruptured a major pipe installed the same year the light bulb was invented. Homes near the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood were quickly going dry, and Mr. Hawkins, who had recently taken over the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority despite having no experience running a major utility, was responsible for fixing the problem. 

As city employees searched for underground valves, a growing crowd started asking angry questions. Pipes were breaking across town, and fire hydrants weren’t working, they complained. Why couldn’t the city deliver water, one man yelled at Mr. Hawkins.

Such questions are becoming common across the nation as water and sewer systems break down.
— The New York Times

 EPA and Florida at odds over water quality
A political battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state’s polluted waters.

 A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting hard numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those waters exceeding the limits would be considered “impaired,” triggering forced reductions on polluters.

 The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.

“We say that Florida’s economy and environment are linked,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that filed suit. “If we can’t stop the state from degrading our waters now, they’ll just get worse.”

 State environmental officials say they agree numeric criteria are needed for nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients. But they claim EPA’s numbers are too stringent and would require pollution reductions in many rivers and lakes that are in good shape.
–The Tampa Tribune

 Bill aims to halt invasive species by limiting boat ramps
How far should Minnesota go to prevent invasive species such as zebra mussels from getting into more lakes?

Should boaters get a $250 fine for accidentally moving bait bucket water from one lake to another? Should there be a moratorium on new public lake accesses? Should the penalty for transporting a lake weed be the same as poaching a deer? 

As unwanted aquatic critters such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas infest more Minnesota waters each year, the public cry to stop the spread is getting louder.

To date, the Department of Natural Resources has relied on boat inspections, stiffer laws and public information to try to slow the spread of lake pests. 

Now the problem hits upon a bigger societal question: Who gets to use Minnesota’s lakes?

“If your only solution is to ban access, you’re giving unfair access to people who own lakeshore access,” said Shawn Kellett, a member of the group Anglers for Habitat. 

Kellett is referring to new legislative proposals ordering the Minnesota DNR to stop developing new public accesses at lakes where no access currently exists. The moratorium would exist for the next five years until the agency develops better ways to control aquatic species.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Water systems sue over Atrazine
A group of public water systems in Missouri and Kansas are part of a federal lawsuit filed in Illinois by 16 water systems against the leading maker of a popular farm herbicide.

 The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million from Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, N.C., and its parent, Syngenta, AG, Basel, Switzerland, in damages and to pay for the costs to treat water laced with atrazine.

Cameron, Mo., northeast of Kansas City; and Concordia, Mo., east of Kansas City; Miami County Rural Water District No. 2, Spring Hill, Kan., just southwest of Kansas City; and the city of Carbondale, Kan., about 60 miles southwest of Kansas City, are among the group of cities and water districts in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio involved. 

The group’s attorney is seeking to make the lawsuit a class-action suit on behalf of other cities and water systems. 

Syngenta is a major manufacturer of the herbicide atrazine, short for 2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropyl amino-s-triazine.
–The KC Tribune  

Climate change stressing  birds
Changes in the global climate are imposing additional stress on hundreds of species of migratory birds in the United States that are already threatened by other environmental factors, according to a new Interior Department report. 

The latest version of the department’s annual State of the Birds Report shows that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline. 

For the first time, the report adds climate change to other factors threatening bird populations, including destruction of habitat, hunting, pesticides, invasive species and loss of wetlands.
–The New York Times 

Judge blocks St. Croix bridge
For the second time, a U.S. district judge in Minneapolis has blocked plans for a St. Croix River bridge south of Stillwater. 

Chief Judge Michael Davis ruled in favor of the Sierra Club in its lawsuit to prevent construction of the bridge. 

“It’s not a win for us. It’s a win for the river,” said St. Croix Valley Sierra Club spokesman Jim Rickard. 

In a 93-page decision, Davis found that the National Park Service’s approval of the bridge plans violated federal law.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

International scientists to review climate change research
A group of top scientists from around the world will review the research and management practices of the United Nations climate change panel so that it can try to avoid the kinds of errors that have brought its work into question in recent months, officials said.

 Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies, would name scientists to take a thorough look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

 The panel has come under sharp attack after revelations of several mistakes in its most recent report, published in 2007, including a poorly sourced and exaggerated account of how quickly the Himalayan glaciers are melting.

 Scientists and officials say that the panel’s finding that the earth is warming — probably as a result of human activity — remains indisputable. But critics have used the errors to raise doubts about the credibility of the entire 3,000-page study.
–The New York Times 

Huge ethanol producer to cut water use 22%
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, says it can do the world one better and embarked on an ambitious initiative called Ingreenuity that first seeks to reduce its water consumption by 22 percent.

 The company wants to squeeze water use at its 26 processing plants by a billion gallons – and wants to reach that goal by 2014.

“We’ve had a 20 percent increase in ethanol yields since our inception, but we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied,” Poet President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin told employees at the company’s Sioux Falls headquarters. “This is how we’re going to define our sustainability as we go forward. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do – it’s the right thing for our planet, and it’s the right thing for future generations.” 

If successful, Ingreenuity would reduce Poet’s water use per gallon of ethanol produced from the current average of 3 gallons to 2.33, or a 22 percent reduction. When it started producing ethanol in 1987, Poet used 17 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of ethanol.
–The Argus Leader

Anoka County aquifers could drop
There’s a fervor to Jamie Schurbon’s voice as he warns of a coming crisis few can see. 

If Metropolitan Council population projections come true, increased water use in urban parts of the metro area will lead to significantly lowered aquifer levels, to the detriment of lakes, ponds and even some shallower private wells. 

Schurbon, a water resource specialist with the Anoka Conservation District, hopes information being gathered now will give water a more prominent place at the table as development resumes in the county after being interrupted by the recession.
–The Star Tribune 

Judge blasts North Dakota water pipeline
A federal judge has issued a harsh rebuke to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, ordering the agency to conduct more studies on the potential environmental impact of a project to divert water from the Missouri River to a large swath of North Dakota. 

 The Northwest Area Water Supply Project would carry water from Lake Sakakawea, a Missouri River reservoir in central North Dakota, to the city of Minot, N.D., where it would be distributed to 10 counties. Most of the planned 45-mile pipeline has already been finished. 

In her opinion in Manitoba v. Salazar, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Canadian province, which claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that the agency failed to take the necessary “hard look” at the project’s environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
–The New York Times

 Sierra Club’s Edgar Wabum dies at 103
Edgar Wayburn, a physician who joined the Sierra Club to take a burro trip and then went on to become a major figure in the conservation movement, leading campaigns that preserved more than 100 million wild acres, died at his home in San Francisco. He was 103.

 In announcing his death, Sierra Club called Dr. Wayburn “the 20th-century John Muir,” referring to its founder, who preserved the Yosemite Valley.

When President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Wayburn the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, he said Dr. Wayburn had “saved more of our wilderness than any other person alive.”

Dr. Wayburn had central roles in protecting 104 million acres of Alaskan wilderness; establishing and enlarging Redwood National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore in California; and starting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco.
–The New York Times

 Iron, fluoride threaten India’s aquifers
Ground water in more than a third of Indian districts is not fit for drinking. The government, in reply to a parliamentary question, admitted that iron levels in ground water are higher than those prescribed in 254 districts while fluoride levels have breached the safe level in 224 districts.

The alarming situation could bring trouble for the government, which has promised to provide drinking water to all habitations by 2012 under the millennium development goals.

While ground water is not the only source of drinking water that government utilises, it is one of the key supplies and the dependence on ground water has been increasing over years.

The government, in its reply, said salinity had risen beyond tolerance levels in 162 districts while arsenic levels were found higher than permissible limits in 34 districts.
–The Times of India

Threatened fish, buffer strips and zebra mussels

August 3, 2009

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

Climate change threatens fish, USGS expert says

Entire populations of North American fish already  are being affected by several emerging diseases, a problem that threatens to increase in the future with climate change and other stresses on aquatic ecosystems, according to a noted U.S. Geological Survey researcher giving an invited talk on this subject at the Wildlife Disease Association conference in Blaine, Wash.

 “A generation ago, we couldn’t have imaged the explosive growth in disease issues facing many of our wild fish populations,” said Dr. Jim Winton, a fish disease specialist at the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center.  “Most fish health research at that time was directed toward diseases of farmed fish.”

 In contrast, said Winton, recent studies in natural aquatic systems have revealed that, in addition to being a cause of natural death, infectious and parasitic fish diseases can produce significantly greater mortality in altered habitats leading to population fluctuations, extinction of endangered fish, reduced overall health and increased susceptibility to predation.

–USGS news release

 Complaint accuses farmers of ignoring buffer rule

The Zumbro River is slow and lazy on a summer’s day as it curves along a gentle bend near Terry Klampe’s home just outside Rochester.

But all is not tranquil in Olmsted County.

 Klampe, a dentist and ardent conservationist, has filed a complaint to give the river some space in farm country.

 Farmers are thwarting the law by planting corn and soybeans to the edge of the river and its tributaries, Klampe said, violating pollution rules that require a 50-foot buffer of permanent vegetation to protect streams and lakes from soil and chemical runoff.

–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels increase blue-green algae

As if there aren’t enough reasons to keep zebra mussels out of Minnesota lakes, add one more: toxic blue-green algae blooms.

 A recent spike in state lakes infested with the non-native mussel has scientists mindful of an emerging — and unwelcome — connection.

 In Michigan, where zebra mussels have infested more than 200 lakes, blue-green algae blooms — the kind that can make people sick and have killed animals that drink the water — are enjoying a resurgence of sorts. And instead of pinning the blame on excess nutrients that typically cause them, scientists are looking squarely at zebra mussels as a trigger.

 Every year, blue-green algae blooms occur across central and southern Minnesota, typically in shallow lakes with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from animal waste or vegetative decomposition. Sometimes, those blooms become toxic, causing farm animals or dogs that consume any of it to get sick or die.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Twin Cities suburbs press water conservation

With thirsty lawns and trees in need of water, suburban residents are struggling to get their home landscapes through a dry summer while obediently adhering to water conservation restrictions.

 City after city now has adopted watering restrictions and stepped-up rates for high water usage, and some residents are shy about watering even when it’s allowed, fearing they are wasting a precious resource.

 Yet there is no water crisis in Minnesota. The Twin Cities area has more water in lakes, rivers and groundwater reserves than almost any other metro area in the country.

So, when is it OK for an environmentally conscientious citizen to water?

–The Star Tribune

 ‘Dead zone’ smaller than predicted

Scientists said that the region of oxygen-starved water in the northern Gulf of Mexico this summer was smaller than forecast, which means less disruption of shrimp, crabs and other marine species, and of the fisheries that depend on them.

But researchers found that although the so-called dead zone along the Texas and Louisiana coasts was smaller — about 3,000 square miles compared with a prediction of about 8,000 square miles — the actual volume of low-oxygen, or hypoxic, water may be higher, as the layer is deeper and thicker in some parts of the gulf than normal. And the five-year average size of the dead zone is still considered far too big, about three times a target of 2,000 square miles set for 2015 by an intergovernmental task force.

–The New York Times

 Invasive flowering rush found in 3 L. Minnetonka bays

Flowering rush, an invasive water plant, has taken root as the latest unwelcome species in Lake Minnetonka — this time probably through the actions of a gardener, not a boater, the Department of Natural Resources says.

 The DNR got word of the plant’s presence in Lake Minnetonka on June 29. In searching 10 of the lake’s 132 miles of shoreline so far, the DNR has confirmed its growth in Smith’s Bay, Brown’s Bay and Crystal Bay near Orono.

–The Star Tribune

 Scientists agree on identifying plant species

An international panel of scientists has agreed to a bar-code standard for plant DNA that will allow the precise identification of most of Earth’s 300,000 species of plants, according to a research report.

 The agreement is expected to generate a wide range of benefits, from checking the purity of herbal supplements to exposing illegal logging operations and helping to protect fragile plant ecosystems, observers said.

 “It’s the first time we have actually developed a technique that will allow people to identify plants,” said James S. Miller, vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden, one of 25 institutions working on the agreement.

 A similar technique for animals was created in 2003 and has been used to expose mislabeled caviar, crack a food-poisoning case involving fish and determine the bird species that caused US Airways Flight 1549 to ditch into the Hudson River in January.

–The Washington Post

 Invasive kelp threatens San Francisco Bay

Chela Zabin will not soon forget when she first glimpsed the golden brown tentacle of the latest alien to settle in the fertile waters of San Francisco Bay.

Skip to next paragraph “I had that moment of ‘Oh God, this is it, it’s here,’ ” said Dr. Zabin, a biologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “I was really hoping I was wrong.”

 The tentacle in question was that of an Asian kelp, Undaria pinnatifida, a flavorful and healthful ingredient in miso soup and an aggressive, costly intruder in waters from New Zealand to Monterey Bay.

–The New York Times

 Appeals court rejects challenge on ballast rules

The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to how Minnesota regulates ships dumping ballast water into Lake Superior.

 In its decision, the court sided with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, saying the agency’s approach, designed to keep non-native species out of the lake, met legal requirements.

 The St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy sued, contending the permit system took too long to implement and isn’t strong enough.

The system requires that, by 2016, all ships treat their ballast water before dumping it into the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior. New ships must start in 2012.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 L.A. June water use hits 32-year low

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported that water demand reached a 32-year low for the month of June, dropping 11% compared with the same period in 2008.

Jim McDaniel, the senior assistant general manager of DWP’s water system, said hard work by ratepayers is paying off. Though experts said June was on average 4 degrees cooler than normal, McDaniel attributed the low demand to the new water restrictions.  

“You don’t see those kinds of reductions just due to weather,” he said.

The restrictions limit the use of sprinklers to 15 minutes a day on Mondays and Thursdays. No watering is allowed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
— The Los Angeles Times

 Restored reef teems with oysters

Scientists say they’ve created something in a Virginia river that hasn’t been seen since the late 1800s: a vast, thriving reef of American oysters, the shellfish that helped create the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and then nearly vanished from it.

The reef sits on the bottom of the Great Wicomico River, a bay tributary about 80 miles southeast of Washington. The scientists say they found a better way to plant oysters, creating an 87-acre colony of bivalves that teems with other marine life.

That’s a long way from bringing oysters back in all of the Chesapeake. Virginia and Maryland officials said this week that they doubted this success could be replicated widely.

But the oyster researchers said their work, published online in the journal Science, provides new hope for one of the bay’s most beleaguered species. The oyster, depleted by overfishing, pollution and disease, has fallen to less than 1 percent of its historical population.

–The Washington Post

 Pollution contaminates beaches

Raw sewage and other pollution continued to foul American beaches in 2008.

For the fourth year in a row, more than 20,000 beach closing days were reported in the USA, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C.

 “Storm water and sewage runoff are the biggest sources for the contamination,” says Nancy Stoner, NRDC’s water program co-director. The report monitored beaches along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, along with those in the Great Lakes states.

–USA Today

 DNR, Trout Unlimited to restore Vermillion

Some time in the Roaring ’20s, someone tried to turn the Vermillion, or at least part of it, into a rushing river.

 It might have been a farmer or the Army Corps of Engineers, but whoever it was removed the curves from a meandering stretch east of Farmington.

The goal was increasing the speed of the prairie river’s flow to quicken drainage of the farm fields that surround it. It worked, but over the years, the water has also whisked away a lot of farm runoff, soil and silt.

 So next summer, in the name of trout habitat and water quality, the Minnesota DNR and Trout Unlimited are leading a project that will help make the rural river meander again.

–The Star Tribune

 Study links soy diet to endocrine disruption

Women who are having difficulty conceiving may want to cut back on their soy consumption after a mouse study reveals that dietary exposure to genistein, a compound found in soy foods, can reduce the odds of a successful pregnancy in multiple ways. The study examined the impact of genistein exposure on oocytes, or eggs, from adult mice and found it can impair oocyte maturation, reduce their potential to become fertilized and hamper the growth of the newly formed embryo.

 The results reveal how natural compounds like genistein may have both risks – it can act as an endocrine disruptor to affect female reproduction – and benefits – such as protecting the heart.

–Environmental Health News

 Syrian drought displaces thousands

Only a few decades ago, fish were plentiful in the Orontes river which for thousands of years has provided water to the lush Syrian plains, at the crossroads of the ancient world.

 These days the Orontes’s 12th Century norias, enormous water wheels famous for their distinctive creak, barely turn in the weak tides. Algae covers the river’s surface and the desert has been closing in.

“The river has become so polluted. The quality of our produce has suffered and there is barely enough now to feed my family,” said 80-year-old farmer Mohammad al-Hamdo.

 Syria’s worst drought in decades has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and raised calls for a coordinated water policy for the Middle East as the region faces a dryer climate and water supplies depleted by damming and water well drilling.

–Reuters

 Wisconsin groundwater funding urged

Water experts recommended to state legislators that they strengthen groundwater laws by pumping more money into monitoring, broadening protections for springs and possibly increasing the distance between high-capacity wells and sensitive surface waters.

The Legislature beefed up groundwater protections in 2004, but Ken Bradbury, a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said during the hearing that it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the law because there has been no money for monitoring.

 The hearing was before a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly natural resource committees. The hearing was the first step in an effort to improve regulations of groundwater created in the 2004 law. State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, one of the co-authors of the initial legislation, said the committees’ examination of groundwater issues is part of a review of the law called for in the 2004 bill.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 USDA allocates water project funds

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced nearly $58 million for water conservation and water quality improvements on agricultural working lands.

 The funding was made available for 63 projects in 21 states through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. No projects in Minnesota or Wisconsin were funded.

 “We must take steps to protect and preserve our water resources, and the Obama Administration is committed to using this program to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to improve water conditions on their land,” said White.

 The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) promotes ground and surface water conservation and improves water quality by helping farmers and ranchers implement agricultural water enhancement activities. With the services and resources of other conservation partners, AWEP allows the Federal Government to leverage investment in natural resources conservation.

–U.S. Department of Agriculture