Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Mercury pollution; $$ for Great Lakes

December 25, 2011

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

Mercury pollution worse near cities
Atmospheric deposition of mercury is about four-times higher in lakes near several major U.S. cities compared to lakes in remote areas, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Atmospheric deposition is the predominant pathway for mercury to reach sensitive ecosystems, where it can accumulate in fish and harm wildlife and humans. Coal-fired power plants and industries are among the primary sources of mercury emissions.

Mercury emissions can travel far in the atmosphere, and the relative importance of local, regional, or international mercury emissions to natural waters is generally unknown.

This is the first study to quantify the relation between mercury fallout and distance from major urban centers. The study included lakes nearby, and remote from Boston, Mass., Albany, N.Y., Montreal, Canada, New Haven, Conn., Tampa and Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Ill., Minneapolis, Minn., Denver, Colo., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Ore.

To better understand geographic patterns of mercury deposition, the USGS analyzed sediment cores from 12 lakes with undeveloped watersheds near to (less than 30 miles) and remote from (more than 90 miles) several major urban areas in the United States. Mercury deposition in the near-urban lakes greatly exceeds amounts found in remote lakes.

The full report can be found in the journal Environmental Pollution.
–USGS News Release

Congress Oks $300 million for Great Lakes
Congress is pressing ahead with a scaled-back version of the ongoing Obama administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

A coalition of conservation groups welcomed the news that both the House and Senate had approved $300 million in the upcoming budget for the program that is focusing on cleaning up toxic hot spots, halting the onslaught of invasive species and restoring sensitive areas such as wetlands. The budget bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama in the coming days.

The $300 million for the program’s third year is about the same amount of federal money dedicated to the program this year, but well under the $475 million that was approved in the first year of what was designed to be a 10-year, $5 billion restoration plan for the world’s largest freshwater system.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

EPA issues air pollution rules on mercury
The Environmental Protection Agency released far-reaching air pollution regulations, 21 years after they were first mandated by Congress and six days after they were signed by the agency.

The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12% of plants. Companies have three years to achieve the standards, and EPA has made clear a fourth year and perhaps even more time are also available to them.

“We’re delighted,” says Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association. “After waiting 21 years, it looks like we may actually have a rule that will help to save 11,000 lives a year and reduce exposure all across the country to a bunch of really toxic substances.”

The EPA rules govern multiple toxics, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide.

Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the United States, the EPA says. The EPA estimates that about half the nation’s power plants already have pollution control technologies in place. This rule will “level the playing field” in the agency’s words, by ensuring that the rest, about 40% of all coal-fired plants, take similar steps.
–USA Today

Mankato Free Press looks at Minnesota River
The Mankato Free Press recently published a five-part series on water quality in the Minnesota River. Take a look at the fine work by reporter Tim Krohn. It is called “From Amber Waves to Muddy Waters.”

Anti-carp precautions urged
A combination sound/bubble or electric barrier would be installed at the Ford dam in the Twin Cities as part of a suite of options endorsed to limit the spread of Asian carp and other invasive creatures into Minnesota rivers and lakes.

In a short meeting at the state Capitol, a panel of state, federal and city officials gave its blessing to an action plan prepared over the past couple of months by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Besides installing the barrier to stop or hamper the invasive fish from moving up the Mississippi River, the plan seeks federal authorization to close locks at the Ford dam or just upstream at Upper St. Anthony Falls if Asian carp are found nearby. There also would be studies on whether to install other barriers, including a permanent one at St. Anthony Falls and a sound/bubble barrier at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wolves coming off ‘threatened’ list
Minnesota’s gray wolves will be removed from the federal government’s threatened species list and returned to state management in January.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Dec. 21, 2011, that it will publish a final de-listing rule in the Federal Register on Dec. 28. After a 30-day period, the Minnesota DNR will re-assume management of the gray wolf.

As it did after previous de-listing rules in 2007 and 2009, DNR will again manage the state’s wolf population by state statute, rule and provisions of a wolf management plan.

Minnesota has a population of about 3,000 gray wolves, the largest population in the lower 48 states. This is roughly twice the number required in the federal government’s wolf recovery plan.

The state wolf plan is designed to protect wolves and monitor their population while giving owners of livestock and domestic pets more protection from wolf depredation. It splits the state into two management zones with more protective regulations in the northern third, considered the wolf’s core range.

The plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 wolves to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf in Minnesota.
–DNR News Release

Joe Beattie honored by SWCD group
Hastings High School teacher Joe Beattie received the distinguished Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award from the Soil and Water Conservation District state convention for incorporating soil and water conservation education programs into his classes. Beattie teaches 11th- and 12th-grade biology courses at Hastings High School.

“Joe has students learn by being outdoors rather than just in the classroom,” said Laura Jester, Watershed Conservationist with the SWCD. “He constantly has his students performing actual restoration, identification and collection activities of our natural environment. These valuable real-world activities are helping shape and develop future conservationist and environmental leaders.”
–The Hastings Star Gazette

Zebra mussels spreading in L. Minnetonka
Minnehaha Creek Watershed District researchers have found that zebra mussels have become more prominent on the east side of Lake Minnetonka and are spreading to western areas of the lake. These findings, based on data collected from June through September 2011, complete the first year of a three-year study to monitor and measure zebra mussels’ spread throughout the lake.

“The expansion and increased density of zebra mussels are concerning,” said MCWD Water Quality Technician Kelly Dooley. “In just a year, this invasive species has spread to nearly all of Lake Minnetonka’s eastern bays and is moving west. We have been working closely with the DNR and our community partners in efforts to prevent their spread. But we need the public’s continued help to prevent the spread of zebra mussels so we can save Minnesota lakes – one of the state’s most valuable assets.”

Once established, zebra mussels spread rapidly, litter beaches with their sharp shells, damage boats and equipment, and alter the food chain of local lakes, rivers and streams.
The three-year study being conducted by the MCWD, with support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Blue Water Science, began after zebra mussels were first detected in Wayzata Bay in 2010. Early in 2011, the MCWD placed two monitoring devices at each of 32 sites from Grays Bay to Halsted Bay to measure the spread of this invasive species. The findings will help create a more accurate map of where the invasive species are located in the lake.

Learn more at the MCWD web site.
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release

LCCMR director Susan Thornton fired
The head of a Minnesota state office that helps direct how lottery proceeds are spent for special environmental and natural resources projects was fired,  prompting questions about the legality of the firing and accusations that House Republicans orchestrated it for political purposes.

Susan Thornton, director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources since 2008, was called into House Speaker Kurt Zellers’ office and told she was being terminated Jan. 2 so the commission could go in a different direction, according to several commission members and DFL legislators.

Neither Thornton nor Zellers could be reached for comment.

The commissioners and some DFL legislators said they were shocked to hear of the firing. They said the commission, which hired Thornton, had expressed no concerns about her work performance and retains authority over that position.

“If the commission is the only entity that can hire her, it’s the only entity that can fire her,” said Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, a legislative member of the commission.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Bioluminescencent bacteria measure pollution

Read a fascinating New York Times article on marine biologist Edith Widder’s use of glow-in-the-dark bacteria to measure pollution in river sediment.

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Good news/bad news on western water use

June 27, 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.

Good news/bad news on western water use
Water conservation efforts in the western US over the past 20 years appear to be paying off.

Major communities that rely partly or completely on the Colorado River for their water have reduced per-capita demand on the river an average of 1 percent or more each year between 1990 and 2008, according to a new study. In all, that’s some 2 million acre-feet of water saved – enough to supply Los Angeles for about three years.

But as populations grow, per-capita efficiency isn’t enough. Communities are still siphoning ever-larger amounts of water from the river.

 During the study period, the volume of water drawn from the Colorado River – by 100 municipal and regional water authorities – grew by 5 percent, even as the amount they drew from all sources rose by 10 percent, according to the report, which was issued by the Pacific Institute, a water-resource policy group based in Oakland, Calif.

 The increased demand was fueled by a population that blossomed from around 25 million in 1990 to 35 million by the end of the study period.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 Oceans are in great peril, report concludes
The state of the oceans is declining far more rapidly than most pessimists had expected, an international team of experts has concluded, increasing the risk that many marine species — including those that make coral reefs — could be extinct within a generation.

 The scientists, who gathered in April at the University of Oxford, cited the cumulative impact of the stresses on the oceans, which include ocean acidification related to growing carbon dioxide emissions, a global warming trend that is reducing the polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing.

‘‘This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted,’’ they wrote in the report.

 The April workshop, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean in concert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brought scientists from a broad range of disciplines together to talk about the problems in the marine environment and what steps can be taken to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems.
–The New York Times

Western Wisconsin well still controversial
A Crawford County landowner’s proposal to drill a high-capacity well for “emergency water bottling purposes” still worries some neighbors, despite proposed government restrictions designed to mitigate the well’s environmental impacts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued responses to dozens of comments generated by the landowner’s application to drill the high-capacity well. The agency attached a dozen proposed conditions that limit how much water can be extracted and how it can be used.

 Landowner Darrell Long said in his application that he would use the well sporadically to sell bulk water during emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

But neighbors fear he has bigger plans. 

Their concerns stem in part from Internet advertisements in which Long offers bulk spring water under the name Mount Sterling, the name of the nearest municipality.
–The La Crosse Tribune 

EPA criticizes House legislation
U.S. EPA warned of the potential dire consequences of legislation being fast-tracked through the House that would give states final say on rules concerning water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining.

In a four-page legal analysis (pdf), EPA said the measure sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) “would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”

GOP House leaders expect to bring the bill to a floor vote this summer.

EPA said the Mica-Rahall bill would “significantly undermine” the agency’s role of overseeing states’ establishment and enforcement of water pollution limits and permits. It said the measure would hinder EPA’s ability to intervene on behalf of downstream states harmed by pollution coming from a state upstream. And it said the bill would prevent EPA from protecting local communities from ill-conceived mountaintop-removal and similar projects allowed to go forward under Army Corps of Engineers-issued permits.
–The New York Times 

Engineers: Maintenance of  U.S. dams neglected
As the U.S. and China endure record-breaking floods this spring, there is a risk that is being overlooked amidst the inundated towns, evacuations and rising waters. Dams in the U.S. boast an average age of 50 years, and the American Society of Civil Engineers continues to give the nation’s dams a D grade overall in terms of maintenance. Will it take the catastrophic collapse of a dam—like the five in the 1970s in the U.S. that killed hundreds—before the infrastructure is repaired?

The nation’s more than 80,000 dams have served us well—restraining less-than-epic floods and generating billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity for regional grids. In fact, massive dams across the western U.S., like Grand Coulee in Washington state, still provide the vast majority of “renewable” electricity in the U.S., some 7 percent. At the same time, hydropower can help balance more intermittent renewable resources, such as wind power. For example, water can be held back water to cope with “wind droughts,” prolonged periods of little or no wind such as an 11 day wind drought in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year.

But these dams of legend are old. And old dams are in danger of failure—more than 4,000 in the U.S. alone are at high risk of imminent failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
–Scientific America

 Dairy penalized for water pollution
BGR Dairy has agreed to pay a $12,075 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and take corrective actions to address alleged compliance violations at its dairy feedlot operation near Lake Park, in Becker County.

 In November 2010, MPCA staff conducted a compliance inspection at the facility.  They observed noncompliant conditions that included a manure spill next to one of two liquid manure storage areas, lack of depth markers and damage to the liquid-manure-storage areas, three paddocks being used as open lots without MPCA approval and containing pools of manure-contaminated runoff, an unauthorized drain, and an unpermitted barn and associated open lot without runoff controls.  These deficiencies had not been reported to the MPCA as required.  In addition, a review of aerial photos in January 2011 showed an unpermitted expansion of the feed storage area pad occurred between 2008 and 2009.

BGR Dairy has taken steps to correct the alleged deficiencies and must complete all corrective actions by Dec. 1, 2011.  These include allowing no more than 50 head of cattle to have access to two open lots and closing two lots, submitting a complete application for a NPDES/SDS discharge permit, submitting complete plans for managing wastewater from the feed storage area and open lots, and repairing and installing depth markers in the liquid-manure-storage areas.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA offers new advice on rising sea levels
From his government office in Virginia Beach, Clay Bernick can see the future, and that future looks a rather lot like the movie “Waterworld.” 

The sea level is rising in Virginia Beach and the entire area known as Hampton Roads because of the warming climate, and the area also happens to be sinking for other geological reasons. 

Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations. 

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.
–The Washington Post

Mississippi R. levee repairs could cost $2 billion
The federal levee system that prevented an estimated $62 billion in losses during Mississippi River flooding last month sustained a good bit of damage itself, Corps of Engineers officials say.

The corps estimates it’ll take $1 billion to $2 billion to repair and rebuild the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which stretches from Illinois to Louisiana and is the world’s largest flood-control system. The work will include repairing 1,000 sand boils, or seepage areas, and restoring the Missouri levees blown up by the corps to purposely inundate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

“If we don’t restore the system by the next flood season, all the damages that did not happen from the catastrophic flooding this year might happen,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, which oversees the corps’ work.

 But some environmentalists are suggesting a rethinking of the existing levee concept, while a Knoxville advocate for clean water said the levee system is contributing to historic contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.
–The Knoxville News Sentinel/Memphis Commercial Appeal

 California groups oppose pesticide plan
Twenty-five environmental and pubic health groups asked Gov. Jerry Brown to abandon the state’s new plan for eradicating agricultural pests and explore a less toxic approach, such as crop rotation or planting neighboring crops that deter insects.

 The plan, announced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, would abandon the traditional practice of assessing the environmental effects of attacking pests one by one, and instead publish a $3-million comprehensive impact report on eradicating all flies, worms, moths and other insects at once.

 Such a comprehensive report would reduce oversight, according to Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.  “This is a huge state, with many ecosystems and bio-regions, with many threatened or endangered species, and it’s impossible to assess in detail all the implications of all possible pesticides for any pest or future pest” in one report, she said. 
–The Los Angeles Times

 Roseville bans coal tar driveway sealants
Roseville residents could face a fine or imprisonment if they are found guilty of violating a new ordinance passed by the city council.

Coal-tar-based driveway sealants are now banned in the city because they contain carcinogens that can end up in the water.

According to a statement released by the city, approximately 2-4 years after the sealants are laid down on driveways and parking lots they can begin to flake off and be carried to storm water ponds. Because the carcinogens are toxic and damage aquatic life, sediments containing them must be disposed of in a hazardous materials landfill, which taxpayers are ultimately responsible for in terms of cost.

The recommendations to ban coal-tar-based sealants came to the council from city staff and the Public Works, Environment and Transportation Commission. Other communities that are already banning the sealants include Maplewood and White Bear Lake.
–KSTP-TV

 MPCA seeks comment on two Scott County Lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Cedar and McMahon lakes in Scott County.  The lakes were identified as impaired because they contain high levels of phosphorus. Though phosphorus occurs naturally, lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to frequent algal overgrowth.

The MPCA determined that the largest sources of phosphorus in the two lakes are the release of phosphorus attached to sediment particles, decaying vegetation from invasive species like curlyleaf pondweed, and runoff from the lakes’ watersheds.  In Cedar Lake, bottom-feeding carp also stir up sediment, releasing phosphorus into the water.

 The draft report concludes that the phosphorus level of Cedar Lake must be reduced by 85 percent and that of McMahon Lake by 81 percent.

The draft report may be viewed at the MPCA web site.
–MPCA News Release

 Taconite firm seeks Wisconsin law changes
Gogebic Taconite says that it won’t proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state’s review process to construct mines.

 A company official, J. Matthew Fifield, said that Gogebic is poised to spend $20 million to $30 million on the next phase of the project — but only if legislation addressing the specific needs of open-pit mining of iron ore is signed into law, he said.

 “For us to move forward, we need iron mining laws,” said Fifield.

The project would employ 700 workers with an average base pay of $60,000. It would also have a two-year economic impact during construction of $2 billion, according to the company.

 Mining legislation foundered this spring in Madison as deliberations on the two-year budget, collective bargaining for public employees and other issues muscled Gogebic’s interests out of the way.

 Wisconsin’s mining laws were written decades ago to address sulfide mining, which uses chemicals to extract minerals in rock. Iron ore mining relies on water, magnets and mechanical power to extract iron.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Research notes birth defects near mining
Birth defects are more likely to occur in Appalachian counties with mountaintop removal coal mining — including Eastern Kentucky — than in other counties in the region, according to a new study.

The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, suggests that birth defects could result from air and water pollution created by mountaintop removal, including mercury, lead and arsenic, which have been shown to pose risks to fetal development.

The study stops short of blaming mountaintop removal for birth defects. But its authors said they tried to account for other possible causes, such as higher rates of smoking, less education and poorer prenatal care among expectant mothers in mining counties. The common factor seemed to be proximity to the blasting of mountains to remove coal, they said.
–The Lexington Herald-Leader

G. Daily to lecture; EPA unveils new water rules

May 2, 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.

Save the date;  Gretchen Daily to lecture June 13
What is a wetland worth? Is it only the price a buyer might pay for the land at the moment? Or does the wetland’s value include the future flood damage or water pollution it may prevent? How do you put a value on any individual natural site’s contribution to keeping plant and animal species from going extinct decades into the future?

Gretchen Daily

Those are the kinds of questions Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily has devoted her career to asking and answering.

 Daily, a global leader in efforts to protect the environment by attaching monetary value to all the services that natural systems provide to humans, will deliver a free public lecture in St. Paul on Monday, June 13.

 Her talk – titled “Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model — will be the fifth lecture in the Moos Family Speaker Series co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. She will present the lecture at 5 p.m. in the theater of theSt. PaulStudentCenteron the university’s St. Paul Campus. 

 Stricter U.S. water controls proposed
The Obama administration announced that it will impose stricter pollution controls on millions of acres of wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams.

The new guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency, which will be codified in a federal regulation later this year, could prevent the dumping of mining waste and the discharge of industrial pollutants to waters that feed swimming holes and drinking water supplies. The specific restriction will depend on the waterway.

The question of which isolated streams and wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act has been in dispute for a decade. The Supreme Court has issued two decisions, and the George W. Bush administration issued guidance in 2003 and 2008 limiting the scope of the act.

 EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a telephone news conference with reporters that although the new rules will expand the waterways enjoying federal protection, “this is not some massive increase, as far as we can tell.”

 The policy change is likely to affect tributaries flowing into water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who chairs the water and wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, joined 13 other senators last month in urging President Obama to expand the application of federal law to such waterways.
–The Washington Post

 Opinion: New water rules praised
The Obama administration’s new guidelines for the Clean Water Act are an important first step in restoring vital legal safeguards to wetlands and streams threatened by development and pollution.

The guidelines are opposed by the usual suspects — real estate interests, homebuilders, farmers, the oil companies. They were welcomed, rightly so, by conservationists and others who have watched in despair as enforcement actions dropped and water pollution levels went up.

 For nearly three decades, the 1972 act was broadly interpreted by the courts and federal regulators as shielding virtually all the waters of the United States from pollution and unregulated development — seasonal streams and small, remote wetlands, as well as lakes and large navigable waters. The basic idea was that small waters have some hydrological connection to larger watersheds and should be protected against pollution that would inevitably find its way downstream.

 Then came two Supreme Court decisions that left uncertain which waterways were protected by the law.
–The New York Times 

Ag and EPA heads talk about soil and water
Read an op-ed column that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson jointly wrote for the Des Moines Register. In it, they say: “If we are going to solve the major environmental challenges of our time – combating climate change, reducing soil erosion and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production – farmers need more than just a seat at the table. They need to help lead the way.”

DNR offers drain plug reminders
A bright-yellow warning sticker has been created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help remind boaters to “check the drain plug.”

Invasive species regulations, which went into effect last year, now require boaters to remove the plug and drain the bilge and live well before transporting a watercraft. The DNR developed the sticker because some boaters forget to put their drain plug back in place before re-launching their boats.

 DNR conservation officers say that some boaters have reported near-misses.

 “I’m told that one angler returned to the dock after parking his truck and trailer, only to find his boat nearly filled with water,” said Tim Smalley, Minnesota DNR boating safety specialist. “This is something new that boaters need to incorporate into their boat launch routine.”

 Bpaters can obtain the stickers at no charge by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367. They are also available by emailing boatandwater.dnr@state.mn.us  and requesting the “Drain Plug Sticker.”
–DNR News Release

 Salmon struggling to survive in L. Michigan
Forty years ago, fisheries biologists in Michigan dazzled the nation when they took salmon from the Pacific Ocean and planted them in the Great Lakes. Their success transformed the lakes into a sport-fishing paradise and created a multi-billion dollar industry. But now invasive species have changed the food web in the lakes. Salmon are struggling to find food, and the state might end one of its stocking programs.
–National Public Radio

Douglas County, MN, board acts on zebra mussels
Douglas County Commissioners are plunging right in.

 The board approved a list of action items to try to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species – specifically zebra mussels – in Douglas County lakes.

Currently, seven lakes are infested with zebra mussels: Lakes Darling, Carlos, L’Homme Dieu, Geneva, Victoria, Jessie and Alvin.

With a 4-0 vote, the county board authorized moving forward to:

  •   Take the position that no further lakes in the county shall become infested with zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species.
  • Appoint Dave Rush, director of the county’s land and resource management department to serve as a zebra mussel “czar” to implement board-directed action to control, contain and eradicate zebra mussels.
  •  Sign a letter of intent with county lake associations indicating a united front to address zebra mussel containment and eradication.
  •  Commit an unspecified amount of funding to develop and place signage at lake access points. The Douglas County Citizen’s Committee recommended signage costs of about $1,500. The signs, stating “Don’t Move a Mussel,” would inform water-craft owners about pulling the boat’s drain plug, draining live wells and bait buckets and washing watercraft and trailers.
  •  Commit an unspecified amount of funding to establish a watercraft decontamination facility – also referred to as a washing station. A washing station would offer a spot at a lake access for watercraft owners to use hot water to wash off their boat, limiting the chance of transporting zebra mussels to another lake. With the Department of Natural Resource’s permission, the DCCC recommended a $26,000 washing unit be placed at the north access on Lake Geneva as part of a pilot project. That access has the space for a wash station and the Geneva Lake Association reportedly supports the concept.

–Alexandria Echo Press

 Montana eyes boat inspections in invasives fight
Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on a new rule that would require vessels launched on Montana waters to be inspected at designated aquatic invasive species inspection stations operated by FWP.

Under the proposed rule, personnel at the stations would search the exterior of the vessel, livewells, bait buckets, bilge areas and trailers. If invasive species are found on a vessel, state officials would decontaminate it. The vessel would then be required to pass a second inspection before it can be launched on state waters. FWP has performed watercraft inspections since 2004.
–Hungry Horse News

Bad news on carp’s survival chances in L. Michigan
Some distressing news emerged at the end of a news conference at which federal officials went to great lengths to assure the public they are doing everything they can to protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion: the idea that Lake Michigan has become too sterile in recent years to support the giant fish may not hold water. 

New lab studies show that Asian carp, which normally make their living sucking plankton suspended in the water, also have a penchant for noshing on the noxious algae blooms that have exploded on the lake bottom in recent years. 

Plankton populations in Lake Michigan have plummeted in the past decade because of the invasion of plankton-loving quagga mussels, which now blanket the bottom of the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan. The mussels have dramatically increased the lake’s water clarity, and that has led to growth of sunlight-dependent algae, called Cladophora, on the lake bottom. 

Tests are now under way to determine whether this algae, which regularly washes ashore and smothers some of the lake’s prized shorelines, including Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach, has enough nutrition to sustain the fish as they migrate up the lake shorelines toward the rivers in which they need to spawn.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MPCA seeks citizen water monitors
For the past 10 years, Watonwan County farmer Norman Penner has been making weekly visits to a small bridge over the Watonwan River, about 1,000 feet from his home near Darfur, Minn.

 Penner, who grows corn and soybeans and raises beef cattle, is a volunteer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.  Penner and 1,700 other volunteers across the state take regular readings of water clarity at assigned lakes or streams.  The information the volunteers collect aids in the MPCA’s efforts to improve water quality and ensures a long-term, continuous data record for water scientists. 

Water clarity, measured using a transparency tube (for streams) or a Secchi disk (for lakes) is a simple test that helps water resource professionals understand the health of a water body. 

This year marks Penner’s 10-year anniversary monitoring water clarity on the Watonwan River.  Penner enjoys noticing how clarity patterns change during the seasons. 

“In spring, after planting, I notice a lot of sediment in the water after a hard rain,” he observed.  “Into the summer, as the crops grow, that doesn’t happen nearly as much, and there is very little change even after a heavy rain.  You notice things like that when you’ve been monitoring for a while.” 

The MPCA is currently recruiting volunteers for the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program and Citizen Lake Monitoring Program.  Volunteers are asked to take readings of water clarity at a designated site every week from April through October.  

To learn more about becoming a volunteer, call Laurie Sovell (for the streams program) or Johanna Schussler (for the lakes program) at the MPCA at 651-757-2227 or toll-free at 800-657-3864.  More information is available at http://www.pca.state.mn.us.
–MPCA News Release

 Small earthquake hits Minnesota
A rare earthquake rippled in and around Alexandria in western Minnesota early Friday (April 29), prompting numerous middle-of-the-night calls to emergency dispatchers and acting as a seismic alarm clock for one royal wedding fan. 

The temblor at 2:20 a.m. measured 2.5 in magnitude, falling into the “weak” category, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no reports of damage or injury.

 The quake probably “felt like a truck rumbling by or thunder,” said USGS geophysicist John Bellini.

Bellini said the agency collected several dozen “felt reports” on its website from citizens in Alexandria and nearby communities such as Brandon, Carlos and Garfield. 

While there is a margin of error in pinpointing any epicenter, the USGS put this one on the southwestern edge of Alexandria, near the town’s airport.
–The Star Tribune

 Questions follow farmed tilapia boom
AGUA AZUL, Honduras — A common Bible story says Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, which scholars surmise were tilapia.

 But at the Aquafinca fish farm here, a modern miracle takes place daily: Tens of thousands of beefy, flapping tilapia are hauled out of teeming cages on Lake Yojoa, converted to fillets in a cold slaughterhouse and rushed onto planes bound for the United States, where some will appear on plates within 12 hours.

 Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Although wild fish predominate in most species, a vast majority of the tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages in Latin America and Asia.

 Known in the food business as “aquatic chicken” because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood.
–The New York Times

 What’s a shark worth? A lot, it turns out
Sharks can be worth far more when they are swimming around the reef than when they are in a bowl of soup — as much as nearly $2 million each, in fact, according to the results of a study.

 For the study, researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science considered the expenditures of divers who travel from around the world to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau to dive with the mainly gray reef and reef whitetip sharks that inhabit its waters, which were declared a shark sanctuary in 2009. 

As a remote country of more than 300 islands — Manila, 530 miles away, is the closest city of consequence — Palau does not have many attractions beyond diving, so spending by international tourists on airfare, lodging and diving makes up an important part of the nation’s economy.

 The economic logic is straightforward: diver tourism contributes about 39 percent of the country’s gross domestic product of $218 million, and 21 percent of divers chose their vacation there specifically to see the sharks, meaning that tourism to view sharks contributes about 8 percent of G.D.P., the study said.

 The researchers concluded that the roughly 100 sharks that inhabit the prime dive sites were each worth $179,000 annually to the island nation’s tourism industry, and that each shark had a lifetime value of $1.9 million.
–The New York Times

 California eyes Mexico for desalination
After more than a decade of public debate, Southern California water officials are considering Mexico for controversial desalination plants.

With efforts to build large-scale ocean desalination plants along the coast of California taking longer than anticipated, Southern California water agencies are looking more seriously at financing a desalination plant across the border in Mexico. 

Water agencies representing southern California, Arizona and Nevada are in discussions with the Mexican government about sharing a desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, just south of San Diego. But it’s the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that are the most serious, based on interviews with officials. 

Construction could begin in as little as two years on a plant producing up to 75 million gallons of fresh water daily. That is more than 50 percent larger than the biggest facility currently planned for California – within San Diego County in Carlsbad – which has been delayed by lawsuits and permitting for more than a decade.
–Natural Resources News Service

 China plans $612 billion in water spending
Climate change is threatening China’s water supply, a government official said.

 “China faces an imbalance between the supply and demand of water to support its rapid social and economic development, while protecting the natural environment and ecosystems,” Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei told a roundtable meeting on climate change in China, the country’s English newspaper, China Daily, reports.

 Global climate change could further exacerbate existing problems over water security, water supply and farming irrigation, Chen said. 

While China has the world’s largest population, figures from China’s Ministry of Water Resources indicate the country’s per capita water resources are only 28 percent of the global average. 

Chen said China has a water shortage of 40 billion cubic meters a year, with two-thirds of cities experiencing increased scarcity of water. 

The Chinese government is expected to invest $612 billion in water conservancy projects over the next 10 years.
–UPI.com 

Forest Service plots fight against invasive plants in BWCA
Superior National Forest officials asked for public comments on a new plan to battle invasive species on land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

 The plan is to attack the invading plants at critical spots using herbicides, people power and education.

 While its remote location has helped keep the relative abundance of invasive plant species down in the BWCAW, the Forest Service has identified about 1,000 known sites totaling 13 acres for treatment in St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties within the 1.1 million-acre wilderness.

 Most of the problem spots are near campsites and portages, indicating the plants probably moved in as seeds by hitchhiking with unsuspecting campers. 

Invading species can choke out native plants and can affect entire ecosystems, including wildlife that is dependent on native species. 

For more information on the plan, or to comment, go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/superior, and select Land and Resource Management” then “Projects.” Look for “BWCAW Non-native Invasive Plant Management Project.”
–The Duluth News-Tribune

 Judge OKs EPA regulation of Florida pollution
Aiming a legal shot directly across the bow of Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-regulation agenda, a Miami federal judge cleared the way for the federal government to do something he contends the state has failed to do for decades: Enforce water pollution standards tough enough to protect the Everglades.

In the latest in a string of blistering rulings, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold reiterated frustration at repeated delays and “disingenuous” legal maneuvers by state lawmakers and agencies he charged have weakened rules intended to reduce the flow of phosphorus into the River of Grass.

“Protection of the Everglades requires a major commitment which cannot be simply pushed aside in the face of financial hardships, political opposition, or other excuses,’’ Gold wrote. “These obstacles will always exist, but the Everglades will not — especially if the protracted pace of preservation efforts continues at the current pace.”

Specifically, Gold’s order would strip authority from the state to issue critical pollution discharge permits for the state’s $1.2 billion network of nutrient-scrubbing marshes and give it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That may sound minor but it potentially has major implication in ongoing, high-stakes legal battles between the state and the federal government over setting the bar for what level of damaging nutrients can be released , not only in the Everglades but in lakes, streams and coastal waters statewide — at least if his ruling stands up on appeal.
–The Miami Herald

Dubuque settles sewer suit
The city of Dubuque agreed to pay $205,000 in fines and to install $3 million in sewer system improvements over the next three years to settle a federal water pollution lawsuit.

A court agreement settled the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state of Iowa will get half the fine money. Dubuque has also agreed to spend about $260,000 to install pavement designed to reduce runoff.

Dubuque’s violations of pollution limits date to the 1970s, the EPA reported.
–The Des Moines Register

Dayton signs permitting speed-up

March 7, 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.

Dayton signs permitting speed-up bill
Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill designed to streamline the state’s environmental review processes. Environmental groups say it’s a sign that natural resource protections are being unraveled in the state.

 House File 1 and Senate File 1 were the top priorities for the new Republican-controlled legislature. They sped through the House and Senate, before Dayton signed them into law.

Dayton said Minnesota needs to improve the permitting process, because “too many possible business expansions have been delayed in recent years.”

The measure sets goals that state agencies should issue or deny all environmental permits within 150 days of submission.

It also moves disputes over agency decisions directly to the Appeals Court, skipping the District Courts, which are physically closer to citizens affected by many projects.

The chief author in the House, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said in the long run the bill will create jobs.

Environmental groups say they’re disappointed with Dayton’s decision. They say the streamlining measure is one of several advancing in the legislature that “threaten to unravel Minnesota’s foundation of environmental protections.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Audit: Environmental review often delayed
Minnesota’s process for environmental review of business projects is too often burdened by delays, uncertainty and duplication of effort, according to a report released by the state’s legislative auditor.

Analysts found that “the environmental review process has not always fully met its objectives and that previous reform efforts have achieved only limited results,” read an introduction to the report written by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles.

The audit found that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources were at times guilty of inconsistencies in expertise and experience in undertaking the two main methods of state environmental oversight: environmental assessments and the more in-depth environmental impact statements. It also said the agencies lacked the data to measure and monitor the timeliness of their permitting processes and identify improvements.

The auditor’s report found that overall, the MPCA responded to 83 percent of environmental permit applications within 150 days.
–The Associated Press

GOP chairs demand environmental spending changes
A joint legislative-citizens advisory group on environmental spending agreed to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations headed to the Legislature. The action came after two key lawmakers warned the group the projects would never pass.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — the LCCMR — advises the Legislature on how to invest proceeds from the state lottery, some of which is dedicated to the environment.

 After a year of study that led to a list of more than 100 recommended projects around the state, two new members told the group that the Legislature would reject some of those projects. 

“I’m sorry folks, the rules changed on Nov. 2 last fall,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the new chairman of the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee. “The group that compiled this list is not in control anymore. They don’t have the majority in the Legislature.

“When you see a TV commercial about the lottery, they talk about a loon, and money getting on the ground and being spent on projects, and not going to studies and research.” 

McNamara teamed up with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, to comb through the list of recommended projects. They presented a list of 25 projects they said wouldn’t fly with the new Republican majority, and another dozen they wanted more information about.
–Minnesota Public Radio

  Scientists urge broader review of chemicals
Groups representing 40,000 researchers and clinicians are urging federal agencies responsible for the safety of chemicals to examine the subtle impact a chemical might have on the human body rather than simply ask whether it is toxic.

 In an open letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency published in the journal Science, the scientists say the regulatory agencies need to tap into genetics, developmental biology, endocrinology and other disciplines when they analyze the safety of chemicals used in everyday products.

“Although chemical testing and risk assessment have long been the domain of toxicologists, it is clear that the development of improved testing guidelines and better methods of assessing risks posed by common chemicals to which all Americans are exposed requires the expertise of a broad range of scientific and clinical disciplines,” said the letter, which was signed by eight scientific societies. 

Broader analysis is particularly needed for chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, said Patricia Hunt, a molecular biologist at Washington State University who helped write the letter.
–The Washington Post

 It’s National Ground Water Awareness Week
Learn to value and protect the groundwater that is the source of drinking water for most Minnesotans. This week, March 6-12, has been declared National Ground Water Awareness Week by the National Ground Water Association.
–National Ground Water Association

Hunting, fishing fee increases going nowhere
A proposal to raise Minnesota’s hunting and fishing license fees for the first time in a decade looks to be dead on arrival at the State Capitol.

It appears unlikely that Republicans, who control the Legislature, will OK an increase proposed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Dayton administration. 

“I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the key Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Star Tribune

GOP likes some of what the EPA does
Republicans have spent a lot of time this year criticizing the EPA, so one would think that President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut $1.3 billion from its budget would be well-received.

 For all their talk about the “job-killing” EPA, Republicans have a dirty little secret: They actually like many of the agency’s efforts, particularly bread-and-butter programs aimed at cleaning up drinking water and air pollution in their districts.

 It’s in those areas where Obama has suggested the most budget pain, putting Republicans in the position of defending EPA and accusing the White House of playing politics.

 Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Washington’s top climate skeptic and most vocal opponent of EPA regulations, took issue with the proposal to slash nearly $1 billion from state revolving loan funds — cash that gets doled out to local drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. 

“You can bet these cuts will be restored, because many of my colleagues believe these are worthwhile programs,” Inhofe told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a hearing.
–Politico

 Who owns Texas groundwater?
It sounds simple: Who owns the groundwater in Texas? But this issue, like others in the hot-button area of aquifer planning, is embroiled in an ongoing policy battle.

 At a crowded hearing, members of the state Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill introduced by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay and the committee’s chairman, that would declare that landowners have a “vested ownership interest” in the water beneath their land. A less-discussed second  bill, filed by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, recognizes both landowner rights and the “compelling public interest” of effective groundwater management.

Both bills are part of a vigorous debate over the best way to manage the declining aquifers in this fast-growing state, where irrigated agriculture is a powerful political force. The conflict pits existing water users against prospective new users, and conservation-minded officials against businesses seeking to sell water.
–The Texas Tribune

Fine levied for Asian carp smuggling
Most of the recent Asian carp panic in Michigan and the upper Midwest has been directed at the threat posed by fish escaping the Chicago River into Lake Michigan.

But the recent seizure of a truckload of live fish at the Detroit-Windsor border — 4,000 pounds of prohibited bighead and grass carp apparently bound for consumer markets in Toronto — demonstrates how complex the threat can be.

 Feng Yang, 52, the owner of a fish import company, pleaded guilty this week in Windsor to violating the federal Fisheries Act, and was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. He was stopped Nov. 4 after crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

 Yang paid a $40,000 fine in 2006 for a similar offense.

 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Officer Bill Ingham said officials believe Yang obtained the fish in the South, where they are legally raised and sold, and then drove them through Michigan into Ontario, where possession of live Asian carp is prohibited.
–The Detroit Free Press

 Recycling no panacea  for ‘fracking’ pollution
As drilling for natural gas started to climb sharply about 10 years ago, energy companies faced mounting criticism over an extraction process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground for each well and can leave significant amounts of hazardous contaminants in the water that comes back to the surface.

 So, in a move hailed by industry as a major turning point, drilling companies started reusing and recycling the wastewater. 

“Water recycling is a win-win,” one drilling company, Range Resources, says on its Web site. “It reduces fresh water demand and eliminates the need to dispose of the water.”

But the win-win comes with significant asterisks. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, natural-gas companies recycled less than half of the wastewater they produced during the 18 months that ended in December, according to state records.   

Nor has recycling eliminated environmental and health risks. Some methods can leave behind salts or sludge highly concentrated with radioactive material and other contaminants that can be dangerous to people and aquatic life if they get into waterways.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Research on drilling allegedly withheld
When Congress considered whether to regulate more closely the handling of wastes from oil and gas drilling in the 1980s, it turned to the Environmental Protection Agency  to research the matter. E.P.A. researchers concluded that some of the drillers’ waste was hazardous and should be tightly controlled.

 But that is not what Congress heard. Some of the recommendations concerning oil and gas waste were eliminated in the final report handed to lawmakers in 1987.

“It was like the science didn’t matter,” Carla Greathouse, the author of the study, said in a recent interview. “The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”

 E.P.A. officials told her, she said, that her findings were altered because of pressure from the Office of Legal Counsel of the White House under Ronald Reagan. A spokesman for the E.P.A. declined to comment.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Toxic or not? Scientists take precautions
Dr. Ana Soto won’t use plastic in the microwave.

 R. Thomas Zoeller uses an iPhone application that flags products with potentially dangerous chemicals to help him make wise choices at the grocery store.

 Dr. Perry E. Sheffield washes her hands often — as much to get rid of potentially dangerous chemicals as germs.

 It’s nearly impossible to prove scientifically that certain diseases are caused by household chemicals, such as bisphenol-A, phthalates, and flame retardants, which are found in everything from kitchen cleaners to baby creams, carpeting to tin cans.

But as research accumulates about their potential dangers, and rates of diseases that are plausibly caused by these chemicals rise, these three scientists are anxious enough to make changes in their own homes.
–The Boston Globe

 MPCA seeks comment on Bald Eagle Lake plan
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites public comments on a water quality improvement report for Bald Eagle Lake, located on the Ramsey-Washington county line. 

  Bald Eagle Lake has contained excess phosphorus since at least the mid-1970s.  Too much phosphorus can produce frequent summer algae blooms, which interfere with recreation on the lake.

The report explains that some phosphorus enters Bald Eagle Lake through runoff from the watershed, but a larger portion comes from internal sources such as lake sediment and decaying vegetation.  In order to achieve the necessary phosphorus reduction of 58 percent, the report recommends strategies to limit phosphorus release from sediment and manage invasive plant species in the lake.  Local initiatives to improve stormwater management and better enforce existing runoff rules will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into the lake.

The draft report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load  report, may be viewed online at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/tmdl-draft.html.  For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak  at  651-757-2837. Comments must be received in writing at the MPCA office by March 30, 2011, and must include an explanation of the commenter’s interest in the TMDL report, a clear statement of any recommended changes and specific reasons for any suggested changes.
–MPCA News Release

 Eastern cougar is extinct. Or is it?
Seven decades after the last reported sighting of the eastern cougar, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct and recommended that it be removed from the nation’s endangered species list.

 There’s one wrinkle, though: it may not be extinct, exactly.

 Scientists are moving toward the conclusion that the eastern cougar was erroneously classified as a separate subspecies in the first place. As a result of a genetic study conducted in 2000, most biologists now believe there is no real difference between the western and eastern branches of the cougar family.

 Either way, the “eastern” cougar as such is no longer with us. Any recent sightings in the cougar’s historic range, which stretched from eastern Ontario and Michigan eastward to Maine and southward to Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, were actually sightings of its relatives, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
–The New York Times

Iowa State research disputes myth on invasives
Invasive plant species, although widespread, are no more abundant in their new homes than in their native area, a U.S. researcher says.

 “There is this assumption that when plants invade a new area that they become much more abundant in the new area than they were in the native areas,” Iowa State University ecology Professor Stan Harpole said in an ISU release. “It turns out that, on average, they aren’t any more abundant away from home than they are at home.”

Previous assumption held that problematic invasive species often spread widely in their new habitats because they don’t encounter predators or diseases that help keep them in check in their home ranges.
–UPI

U.S. approves deep water oil permit
The federal government approved the first permit to drill the kind of deepwater oil well that was banned after last year’s BP disaster, but it’s yet to be seen whether the move will open the gates to the type of aggressive and lucrative exploration the industry has been clamoring for.

Top offshore regulator Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the approval for Houston-based Noble Energy is a milestone, even though it’s to pick up work on a well southeast of Venice that Noble had already drilled to more than 13,000 feet.

The work at Noble’s Santiago well, less than 20 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling BP’s ill-fated Macondo project, stopped when President Barack Obama imposed a moratorium blocking most drilling in deepwater from May 30 through Oct. 12. Since then, the only permits approved have been for technical work, such as water-infusion wells that are not intended to tap into oil reservoirs.
–The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Satellites show California groundwater decline
We all know the dangers of not balancing our check books: we could withdraw from our bank accounts more than we’ve deposited, and get fined-or worse-for overdrawing.

You’d think we’d manage our groundwater accounts at least as carefully as our bank accounts, especially given that the food security of this and future generations depends on them. But we don’t. Rarely is groundwater use monitored, measured or regulated. This is true for most of the world, as well as for California’s Central Valley-the fruit and vegetable bowl of the United States. Farmers in the 52,000 square-kilometer valley produce 250 different kinds of crops that together account for 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural value.

 But thanks to the National Atmospheric and Space Administration’s (NASA) satellite mission called GRACE (the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), we’re getting some excellent assessments of what’s happening to water underground-and the picture is sobering. GRACE monitors changes in Earth’s gravity field that result from changes in water storage, and the technology can give a fairly accurate picture of what’s happening to groundwater supplies.

Jay Famiglietti of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine, and eight colleagues used data from the GRACE mission to estimate that California’s Central Valley lost 20.3 cubic kilometers (16.4 million acre feet) of water between October 2003 and March 2010–a volume equal to 63 percent of the capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of that depletion occurred between April 2006 and March 2010, a period of drought when farmers pumped more groundwater to compensate for less rainfall and cutbacks in surface water deliveries to irrigators. Famiglietti’s team published their findings this month in Geophysical Research Letters.
–Sandra L. Postel in a National Geographic blog

 

EPA criticized; moose decline continues

February 21, 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.

Industries criticize EPA standards for Florida
A coalition of national industry associations is warning Congress that U.S. EPA’s move to impose tougher water pollution limits in Florida could become a model for similar actions in other states and ultimately cost taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars at questionable environmental benefit.

EPA immediately fired back, rejecting the claim and noting that the numeric limits on nutrient pollution the agency imposed on Florida last year were required under a settlement agreement EPA struck with environmental groups.

The groups had filed suit alleging that federal regulators stood idly by for years as the state continuously failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, allowing phosphorus and nitrogen — components of fertilizer and byproducts of sewage and wastewater treatment — to saturate waterways, triggering soupy algae blooms that killed fish and sucked oxygen out of the water.

“While States are free to control nutrient pollution, and many are starting to, EPA has no plans to establish numeric nutrient criteria in any other states,” EPA said in a statement yesterday responding to the industry letter. “The establishment of numeric limits of nutrient pollution in Florida was due to specific legal challenges about the State of Florida’s implementation of the Clean Water Act.”
–The New York Times

Moose decline continues
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 14-year decline, dropping to a record low of 24 calves per 100 cows. The proportion of cows accompanied by twin calves was at the lowest level since 1999, which contributed to the record-low calf-to-cow ratio.

“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader.

Moose numbers are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeastern Minnesota moose range.

Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 4,900 moose in northeastern Minnesota. Last year’s estimate was 5,500.

A study of radio-collared moose in northeastern Minnesota between 2002 and 2008 determined that nonhunting mortality was substantially higher than in moose populations outside of Minnesota.

The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 114 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Nine deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

U.S. House defeats anti-carp proposal
The U.S. House rejected a proposal to force the closure of Chicago-area shipping locks that could provide an opening to the Great Lakes for voracious Asian carp, a potential threat to native fish species and the region’s economy.

By a vote of 292-137, lawmakers defeated a budget bill amendment offered by Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan that would have denied funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to open the two navigational structures. Opponents argued successfully that the locks were vital to commerce and closing them wouldn’t necessarily prevent the unwanted carp from reaching Lake Michigan.

“It’s a great relief that we were able to defeat this amendment,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican. “Its passage would have been devastating to Chicago’s economy and cost thousands of jobs in our region. Worse, it would have been an empty gesture against the carp, doing more to kill jobs than slow down fish.”

Michigan and four other states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are suing in federal court to close the locks and permanently sever the man-made link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds to prevent invasive species from migrating between them.
–The Canadian Press

MPCA urges care in manure applications
As another winter of heavy snowfall gives way to warming temperatures, rapid melting and potential for flooding pose challenges for manure management among the more than 25,000 livestock farms in Minnesota.  Many smaller operations that spread solid manure during winter must ensure that it doesn’t run off with rapid snowmelt flowing to ditches, streams and other waters.

Manure-contaminated runoff not only threatens water quality, it reduces the value of manure as a crop nutrient.  “Manure applied to snow-covered or frozen soils during conditions of snow melt or rain on frozen soils can contribute the majority of the annual nutrient losses,” says Dennis Frame, University of Wisconsin-Extension.  “There is a high potential for manure runoff this year based on current field conditions and typical weather patterns.”

If possible, farmers should refrain from spreading manure during periods of rapid snow melt.  Frame offers manure-handling suggestions in article.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also has a fact sheet available titled, “Managing manure and land application during adverse weather conditions.”
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release

Indiana bill aims at manure transport
Indiana could be in deep trouble.

The Indiana House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee had a hearing Feb. 8 concerning House Bill 1134. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, and aims “to amend the Indiana Code concerning agriculture and animals.”

More specifically, the bill targets interstate manure transport into Indiana.

Richmond, Ind., Environmental Activist Barbara Sha Cox said it is crucial for eastern Indiana counties to take a stand.

“This should be of special interest to those in Richmond who drink water from the reservoir and everyone in the counties who have private wells,” Cox said in an Indiana Living Green press release. “As it stands now, they can dump piles of manure near waterways with no runoff protection.”

According to the press release, Ohio has been shipping and dumping excess manure into Indiana border counties

Congressman seeks to halt Chesapeake Bay plan
Money for a far-reaching pollution control plan for Chesapeake Bay would be stripped from this year’s federal budget under a proposed amendment to an important House spending bill.

The amendment, filed by Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, takes aim at an Environmental Protection Agency program to reduce the flow of several major pollutants into the bay by roughly a quarter by 2025. Called a “pollution diet” by federal regulators, the plan was deemed necessary after the E.P.A. determined that states were moving too slowly to curb polluted runoff from farms and cities into the bay.

In an interview, Mr. Goodlatte called the E.P.A. plan a “power grab” that exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act and said that the agency had failed to calculate the program’s impact on jobs and the region’s economy. He argued that under the new regulations, towns and cities would be required to spend millions of dollars to upgrade their stormwater runoff systems.
–The New York Times

Macalester College tries bottled water ban
MacCares, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, in conjunction with the Sustainability Office and the Social Responsibility Committee, is launching what organizers call the “full-scale test run” of a policy they eventually hope the college will implement permanently: ending the sale of bottled water on campus.

The test run was to  start on Feb. 21, and last until Mar. 13. The ban will mean that no bottled water will be sold at the Grille, the Highlander and the vending machines in the Leonard Center.

“The idea is to have a big educational campaign to make sure that people on campus understand some of the issues with bottled water and tapped water,” said Brianna Besch ’13, a member of MacCares who is helping to lead the initiative and Bottled Water Awareness Month.

The trial discontinuation is the result of concerns raised regarding the environmental and social effects of bottled water, including the waste it generates, the lack of oversight over its quality, and the commodification of what the United Nations has declared a human right. “You’re paying a lot more for something that you can almost get for free,” said Besch. “A lot of people think bottled water is healthier, but it actually has much more lax standards for quality. . . then you’ve got the waste component. It takes seventeen million barrels of oil per year to produce and transport bottled water [in the United States].”
–Mac Weekly
 

11% budget cut proposed for MPCA
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says even with an 11 percent reduction in funding, it will be able to make progress on key issues under Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.

MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the MPCA is also moving to streamline its permitting process. If federal cuts add significantly to state cuts, it will be harder to fulfill the agency’s mission, he said.

He says the agency will be able to absorb the reduction through normal turnover and early retirements, even as the PCA works to streamline its permitting processes.

The agency will give priority to new projects and expansions that create jobs, he said, and that means existing businesses may operate longer under expired permits — but they have to maintain the same conditions as required in their old permit.
–Minnesota Public Radio

DNR submits 25-year plan for parks and trails
Minnesota finally has a strategic blueprint for how best to spend more than $1 billion in state sales tax money during the next quarter-century to build what advocates hope will be a world-class system of parks and trails.

The state Department of Natural Resources gave its 25-year plan to the Legislature, a key step in helping future lawmakers direct those Legacy Amendment dollars to specific parks and trails projects.

The plan, sought by legislators and developed over 18 months with help from the Citizens League and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Changing Landscapes, doesn’t offer specific project recommendations.

Rather, it lays out a broad set of guidelines, developed in response to insights from more than 1,000 parks and trails enthusiasts and also stemming from the most detailed inventory of local, regional and state parks facilities ever put together in the state.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Great Lakes funding keeps shrinking
The Obama administration’s much-trumpeted Great Lakes restoration plan continues to shrink in the face of federal budget woes.

It was conceived as a 10-year, $5 billion program to do things like clean up toxic messes, restore wetlands, stem the influx of invasive species and promote native fisheries. But the funding has shrunk from $475 million in 2010 to $225 million this year if the House Appropriations Committee has its way.

That figure, included in the committee’s continuing resolution to wrap up the current year’s budget, was $75 million lower than the $300 million President Barack Obama had requested for this year. The Senate has yet to weigh in.

Obama released his 2012 budget, which includes $350 million for the restoration program next year.

Conservation groups said all the uncertainty is making it difficult to execute a comprehensive plan to restore the world’s largest freshwater system. “There are long-term projects that require some certainty of funding levels from year to year,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It’s put people in limbo, projects in limbo and research in limbo, just awaiting congressional action.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Research: Human actions yield more rain, snow
An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.

In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.

As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.

The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research. The paper is being published in the journal Nature.
–The New York Times

Rising sea levels could hurt 180 U.S. cities
Rising seas spurred by climate change could threaten 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, a new study says, with Miami, New Orleans and Virginia Beach among those most severely affected.

Previous studies have looked at where rising waters might go by the end of this century, assuming various levels of sea level rise, but this latest research focused on municipalities in the contiguous 48 states with population of 50,000 or more.

Cities along the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico will likely be hardest hit if global sea levels rise, as projected, by about 3 feet (1 meter) by 2100, researchers reported in the journal Climate Change Letters.

Sea level rise is expected to be one result of global warming as ice on land melts and flows toward the world’s oceans.
–Reuters

Gray water, revived rivers, and a new day for Venetian tap water

June 15, 2009

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

Mussel revival targets Mississippi
Federal divers waded into the Mississippi River looking for signs of life. Finding the winged mapleleaf mussels that had been planted last fall downstream from the Ford Dam would give hope that even sensitive native species can once again survive there.

“Forty or fifty years ago you couldn’t find anything alive in this section of the river, let alone think about reintroducing an endangered species here,” said Byron Karns, biologist for the National Park Service.

Karns and another diver swam parallel upstream, feeling their way along the murky bottom about 25 feet from shore and towing a float with a bright orange safety flag. They were looking for two containers, each about the size of a salad-mixing bowl. Each held five winged mapleleaf mussels — named for a small extension of the shell that resembles a wing — that scientists had helped to propagate and nurture since late 2004.
–The Star Tribune

Venice promotes l’acqua del sindaco
In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.
–The New York Times

Groundwater sends mercury to sea, fish
Groundwater flowing into the ocean may be a significant source of a highly toxic form of mercury, University of California scientists say.

The group headed by researchers at UC Santa Cruz found high levels of methylmercury in underwater flows at Stinson Beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and at Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County, south of San Francisco.

The study suggests that groundwater may be as big a source of mercury in coastal waters as mercury deposited from atmospheric pollution.

Methylmercury accumulates in the food chain, leading to levels in some sea food that can be dangerous if too much is consumed.

“The big question for public health is, ‘Where is all the mercury in seafood coming from?'” says coauthor Russell Flegal, a professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz. “What we have shown is that methylmercury is coming from groundwater in California at surprisingly high levels.”
–United Press International

WA farmers object to water rights transfer
Conservation groups and farmers are opposing a June 11 decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to approve a water rights transfer for a proposed large feedlot on dry land near the small town of Eltopia, about 75 miles east of Yakima, according to a June 12 Associated Press (AP) report.

Easterday Ranches Inc., one of the largest feedlot operators in the Northwest, has said the proposed feedlot, which it hopes to begin building later this summer, could accommodate as many as 30,000 cattle at peak operation. The feedlot still requires a state air quality permit.

The Department of Ecology approved the water rights transfer for the project from a neighboring farm that used 316 acre-feet of water annually to irrigate potatoes, blue grass and winter wheat. The department estimated that a feedlot of 30,000 cattle would consume more than 500,000 gallons of water daily.
–Water Tech Online

Congress urged to protect fish from drugs
Pollution experts pressed a congressional panel for stronger action to keep pharmaceuticals and other contaminants out of the water, saying they are hurting fish and may threaten human health.

Thomas P. Fote, a New Jersey conservationist who sits on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the pollutants are damaging commercial fisheries. He told congressmen not to “study a problem to death and never do anything.”

Fote appeared in a lineup of witnesses before the subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee. The witnesses pointed to research showing damage to fish and other aquatic species from pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals, especially those that alter growth-regulating endocrine systems. Some scientists worry about the potential of similar harm to humans.
–The Associated Press

Report released on endocrine disruptors
The Endocrine Society — conducting its annual meeting in Washington, DC, — has released a 50+ page detailed Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

According to the EPA, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic a natural hormone, fool the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., thyroid hormone that results in hyperthyroidism), or respond at inappropriate times (e.g., producing thyroid hormone when it is not needed). Other endocrine disrupting chemicals block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. thyroid hormones required for normal development). Still others directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (e.g. an over or underactive thyroid). Certain drugs are used to intentionally cause some of these effects, such as birth control pills. In many situations involving environmental chemicals, however, an endocrine effect is not desirable.

American endocrinologists have not formally weighed in on the issue in depth until the release of the statement. You can download a free copy of this PDF document online now.
–Endocrine Society news release

Recycling gray water cheaply, safely
A severe drought out West continues to threaten farms, fish, and water supplies to nearly everyone. Tighter water restrictions went into effect this month in much of Southern California, and the federal government issued a directive that could cut water delivery to farmers and residents in the state by 7 percent.

But some believe California is missing out on a key conservation method that’s already available.

Susan Carpenter breaks California state plumbing code three times a week. Her accomplice is her washing machine. Rinse water from washing machines usually goes into the sewer — so what if you could recycle it? That’s what Carpenter does, using it to water plants at her Southern California home.
–National Public Radio

German scientists distill water from air
Not a plant to be seen, the desert ground is too dry. But the air contains water, and research scientists have found a way of obtaining drinking water from air humidity. The system is based completely on renewable energy and is therefore autonomous.

Cracks permeate the dried-out desert ground, the landscape bears testimony to the lack of water. But even here, where there are no lakes, rivers or groundwater, considerable quantities of water are stored in the air. In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart working in conjunction with their colleagues from the company Logos Innovationen have found a way of converting this air humidity autonomously and decentrally into drinkable water.
–Science Daily

St. Croix River case goes to Supreme Court
Broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard’s new house on the St. Croix River is finished and his family has moved in, but his three-year fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources isn’t over.

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hubbard’s case last week.

“This case is about property rights,” Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said. “It is a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”

The DNR asked the Supreme Court to review a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that favored Hubbard.

Hubbard bought a 3.8-acre parcel on the river in Lakeland for $1.6 million in April 2006. He planned to knock down a small cabin on the property and build a much larger house on the cabin’s footprint. He asked for and received permission from Lakeland officials to set the footprint of the house closer to the bluff line than rules allow.

But that fall, officials from the DNR, which manages the federally protected scenic riverway, refused to sign off on the variances granted by Lakeland. According to the DNR, any new house must be built 40 feet from the bluff line.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gray water use now legal in Oregon
Reusing bath, laundry and sink water used to be illegal in eco-friendly Oregon, but no more.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill today that makes it OK to replumb your house to capture so-called “gray water” as a way to save water and dollars.

“This will allow us to water our garden with our bath water. It’s very simple,” said Brenna Bell, a citizen activist working to change state codes that block environmental practices
–Oregonlive.com

Water is the next carbon
Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Minnesota River making a comeback
One of the best parts of this job is “discovering” some unsung Minnesota treasure and singing its praises.

In some cases, the intent is to prod St. Paul policymakers to lift a finger to see that the treasure survives for future generations.

Yet the case already has been made — often — to preserve the Minnesota River. My plea here is for more Minnesotans to consider this river’s fishery. It is truly unsung, amazing and worth improving upon.

Remarkably, paddlefish are returning in these waters, which once were an open sewer for river communities and industry. Another returnee and pollution-sensitive species, lake sturgeon, is increasingly being caught. Giant flathead catfish in excess of 50 pounds are beginning to lure anglers from as far as Texas.
— St. Paul Pioneer Press

US. Canada agree to re-open negotiations on Great Lakes Pact
Canada and the U.S. have agreed to renegotiate their pact on protecting the Great Lakes.

In her first trip to Canada since becoming the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on  Saturday to announce the reopening of the Great Lakes agreement, which was created in 1972 and last amended 22 years ago.

The move is being cheered by environmentalists and politicians who say the Great Lakes agreement is in desperate need of an overhaul to deal with growing and new threats such as invasive species and climate change.
–The Hamilton Spectator

EPA plans public meeting on Cass Lake cleanup
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting June 23 to update Cass Lake residents on the development of cleanup plans for ground water at the former St. Regis Paper wood treatment facility. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., at Leech Lake Tribal College, Room 100, A-Wing, 113 Balsam N.W., Cass Lake.

The EPA is working with International Paper Co. and BNSF, as well as the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to develop options to permanently reduce health risks at the Superfund  site.  A feasibility study to evaluate a number of options is under way.

Once the study is complete, EPA will propose a recommended approach and present it to area residents. A public hearing will likely occur in late 2009 or early 2010.  The June 23 meeting will provide a progress report and give citizens an opportunity to ask questions of EPA and its partners.

The St. Regis Paper Superfund site was a wood treatment facility that operated from about 1958 to 1985.  The site was initially cleaned up in the 1980s by its former owner, Champion International.  International Paper is the current property owner and continues to treat groundwater from the site.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/region5/sites/stregis/.
–U.S. EPA news release

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, beavers are back
The dozens of public works officials, municipal engineers, conservation agents and others who crowded into a meeting room here one recent morning needed help. Property in their towns was flooding, they said. Culverts were clogged. Septic tanks were being overwhelmed.

We have a huge problem,” said David Pavlik, an engineer for the town of Lexington, Mass. where dams built by beavers have sent water flooding into the town’s sanitary sewers. “We trapped them,” he said. “We breached their dam. Nothing works. We are looking for long-term solutions.”

Mary Hansen, a conservation agent from Maynard, said it starkly: “There are beavers everywhere.”
–The New York Times

Georgia declares end to two-year drought
Georgia lifted tough outdoor water restrictions and declared an end to the drought that has gripped much of the state since late 2007.

The move takes effect immediately.

“This drought has ended,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. “Our water supplies are flush. Our rivers and streams have rebounded.”

At a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, Couch said that Georgia is moving to non-drought water rules. Homeowners can now water their lawns three days a week, based on whether they have an odd or even street addresses.
–Rome News-Tribune

Curly leaf pondweed: nice beat, easy to dance to

May 11, 2009

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

Iowa plans $455 million pollution fight
Iowa is about to launch its biggest assault ever on river and lake pollution – a $455 million campaign.

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don’t have any.
–The Des Moines Register

 

What, exactly, do invasive species sound like to you?
A new initiative at UW-Madison is using music to raise public awareness about aquatic invasive species in the state.

“Research shows music can influence how we respond to messages, affecting memory, emotion, attitudes, and even behavior,” says Bret Shaw, assistant professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison and environmental communication specialist for UW-Extension.
–UW-Madison News

Polar bears won’t force climate crackdown
The federal bureaucracy that safeguards endangered species isn’t equipped to tackle climate change, Interior Department officials said — declining to protect Alaskan polar bears by cracking down on polluters in the Lower 48.

The decision, announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, was the Obama administration’s first word on an emerging environmental question.
–The Washington Post

 

Environmental video provokes controversy
The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.
–The New York Times

Scott County pro-active on water quality
Scott County contacted Jay and Laureen Picha on Jan. 29 and invited them to a little sit-down. It was about the creek that runs across their 167 acres between Shakopee and Jordan.

It seems that at times, too much water is racing down it too fast, carrying sediment and perhaps pollution into Sand Creek, and then into the Minnesota River, which is not so pure to begin with.
–The Star Tribune

 

EPA announces proposed budget
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed $10.5 billion budget would create jobs and protect the environment, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

The EPA allocated $3.9 billion to maintain and improve outdated water infrastructure and keep wastewater and drinking water clean and safe, she said. The money would support building and renovating an estimated 1,000 clean water and 700 drinking water infrastructure projects, and repair and upgrade older drinking water and wastewater pipes.

To address climate change, the agency’s proposal budgets $17 million in the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for new analytical tools, upgraded testing capabilities and coordination with other agencies on research and green initiatives.
–United Press International

World’s second-largest fish is a snowbird
How do you lose the world’s second-largest fish?

It had been happening for decades to researchers studying the basking shark, a plankton-eating species that can grow to be 35 feet long — only the whale shark is bigger. Basking sharks were easy to spot in summer and fall. Many cruised near the surface off New England, filtering water through an impossibly wide mouth.

But then, in winter, the sharks vanished from these waters, and scientists couldn’t find them anywhere else. One guess was that they sank to the bottom and hibernated, waiting out a food shortage. But nobody knew for sure: The basking shark became a reminder of the unsolved mysteries of the oceans.
–The Washington Post

Residents, cities oppose Mississippi regulation
Many cities and residents along the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton, fear they will have less control over their property and development along the river under a pair of bills moving toward passage at the State Capitol.

At least six cities — Lilydale, Mendota, Coon Rapids, Champlin, Anoka and Ramsey — have adopted resolutions or sent letters to legislators opposing the bills. Most of the resolutions say the bills ignore property-owner rights and could give the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) more control over local zoning.
–The Star Tribune

 

New York governor nixes bottled water
Citing financial and environmental reasons, Gov. David A. Patterson signed an executive order directing state agencies to phase out the purchase and use of bottled water at government workplaces.

As a result, the state will gradually stop buying single-serve water bottles and larger, cooler-sized water bottles. Each executive agency will have to provide alternative sources, like fountains and dispensers for tap water.

In June 2007, San Francisco’s mayor, Gavid Newsom, prohibited spending city money on single-serving bottled water.
–The New York Times

 

Maine considers tax on bottled water
Dozens of Poland Spring employees and business representatives who support the company descended on the Maine State House to show their opposition to a proposed penny-a-gallon tax on bottled water.  It’s being promoted as a way to generate revenue from a shared natural resource in difficult economic times.  But opponents warn it could open a Pandora’s Box by creating a precedent the state cannot afford.

The penny-a-gallon tax would only apply to water bottlers in Maine who extract more than a million gallons of ground water in a year.  And Poland Spring says, for all intents and purposes, that’s Poland Spring alone.  The tax would cost the company about $7 million a year.  And it would not apply to Poland Spring’s chief competitors, Aquafina and Dasani, which which get their water out of state and which would continue to sell in Maine.
–Maine Public Broadcasting Network

 

Bisphenol-A banned in kids’ cups
Sippy cups and baby bottles containing a chemical suspected of being harmful will be banned in Minnesota starting next Jan. 1.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law that prohibits the sale of bottles and cups that contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is found in many plastics and in canned food coatings.

BPA is so widespread that most people have traces of it in their bodies, but even though the new law regards it as a health threat, scientists haven’t definitively determined whether that’s the case.
–The Star Tribune

 

Climate threatens tiny pikas
The Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning a yearlong review to determine whether the pika, an 8-inch-long mountain animal that looks like a rabbit with round ears, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It would be the first mammal from the lower 48 states to be considered for protection as a result of changes resulting from global warming. Pikas live on rocky slopes in the West and cannot bear temperatures above 78 degrees for more than a short time. In a 2007 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity said rising temperatures had already caused “dramatic losses” of pika populations at lower elevations.
–The New York Times

 

USGS research focuses on mercury in Pacific
The U.S. Geological Survey has taken a big step toward answering long-standing questions about mercury in the oceans, with the release of a landmark study pointing to the role of human activities in releasing the contaminant and changing the makeup of the North Pacific.

The study opened the door to several key remaining questions, including whether different oceans absorb mercury differently and whether more of the metal in the water leads to increased levels of methylmercury — mercury’s highly toxic form — in marine life.
–The New York Times

Declining aquifers, superfund sites and dust storms

April 27, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Superfund program chronically underfunded
The Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most contaminated industrial sites was established nearly 30 years ago on the principle that those responsible for toxic pollution should pay for it.

So why is the government spending $600 million in stimulus money to work on sites like the defunct arsenic-fouled Vineland Chemical Company plant here in South Jersey?
–The New York Times

Wisconsin plans tough rules on invasives
Wisconsin officials advanced a major package of regulations designed to control the movement of invasive plants, fish and animals.

The Natural Resources Board voted, 7-0, on rules designed to fight non-native invaders that pose environmental and economic peril.

After the vote, the Department of Natural Resources said the measure – five years in the making – represents the first time a state has developed a comprehensive rule to fight the spread of invasive species.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Democrats debate softer climate rule
House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are negotiating among themselves on whether to scale back legislation that would impose a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases, with some conservatives and moderates calling for electric utilities to be given free pollution allowances and for more modest cuts in the targets for reducing emissions.
–The Washington Post

Dust storms increase in the West
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet, and surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, Silverton, Colo., seems an unlikely place for a dust storm, especially with two feet of snow on the ground. So Chris Landry was alarmed on the afternoon of April 3 when he spotted a brown haze on the horizon; an hour later, a howling wind had engulfed the town in a full-fledged dust storm, turning everything from the sky to the snow a rusty red.

“It was almost surreal,” recalled Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The landscape looked like Mars after the storm passed, he said: “You could feel the dust, you could taste the dust.”
–The Washington Post

Louisiana aquifer steadily declining
Some areas in north Louisiana have lost one-third of their drinking water supplied exclusively by the Sparta aquifer.

For nearly 50 years, water levels in the Sparta aquifer have been declining by about two feet per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sixteen parishes in north Louisiana depend either entirely or partially on the Sparta aquifer for their potable water, but the groundwater source is being used faster than it can be replenished.
–Shreveport Times

Energy tax credit gives billions to paper companies
Paper companies in Minnesota and across the nation have figured out how to make billions off of an alternative energy tax credit that Congress devised two years ago. Their answer: burn diesel.

This rather paradoxical twist has already ignited a debate between the paper industry and environmental groups and lawmakers on both sides of the argument in what some industry watchers and analysts are claiming is a presage of fights to come as Congress tries to detail new climate and energy legislation this session.
–Minnpost.com

Research questions sustainability of Colorado River uses
The Colorado River is a critical source of water for seven Western states, each of which gets an annual allotment according to a system that has sparked conflict and controversy for decades. But in an era of climate change, even greater difficulties loom.

The scope of those potential problems is detailed in a study being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography report that under various forecasts of the effects of warming temperatures on runoff into the Colorado, scheduled future water deliveries to the seven states are not sustainable.
–The New York Times

Gas drillers must account for water use, court rules
Energy companies drilling natural gas from underground coal seams must obtain water well permits or replace the water they use if other water supplies are affected, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

Groundwater pumped out during coal-bed methane drilling is not just a waste product, the court said, ruling on a lawsuit by landowners who say their water supplies are threatened by companies using groundwater to free natural gas in coal seams.
–The Associated Press

Illinois investigation of tainted water begun
Gov. Pat Quinn is demanding answers from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about why residents of south suburban Crestwood weren’t notified that the village had pumped drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals for more than two decades.

In response to a Tribune investigation that revealed the village’s secret use of a polluted well, Quinn directed his senior staff to conduct a thorough review of the EPA’s actions in Crestwood. Among other things, the governor wants to know why the agency didn’t invoke a 2005 law requiring the state to issue a notification when residents could be exposed to soil or groundwater pollution.
–The Chicago Tribune

California begins $4 million conservation effort
Californians should take shorter showers, wash only full loads of laundry and use a broom instead of a hose to clean their driveways.

Those are some of the steps the state is promoting as part of a $4 million statewide public education campaign.
–The Associated Press

EPA to stiffen reporting requirements
The federal government will once again require companies to fully disclose the toxic chemicals they release into the air, onto land and into water.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was reversing a decision by the Bush administration in 2006 that reduced reporting of toxic pollution for more than 3,500 facilities nationwide.
–The Associated Press

Greenhouse gases; drugs in the water

April 20, 2009

 

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

EPA designates greenhouse gases as pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

The E.P.A. said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling initiates a 60-day comment period before any proposals for regulations governing emissions of heat-trapping gases are published.
–The New York Times

Tons of drugs released into U.S. waters
U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water , according to an Associated Press investigation.

Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking. For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder. Nitroglycerin is a heart drug and is also used in explosives. Copper shows up in pipes and contraceptives.
–The Associated Press

Lake Vermilion state park in jeopardy
In 2007, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced his initiative to buy 2,500 acres of land along Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. At the time, he said securing the land would make the park one of the nicest parks in the nation.

“We hope through this proposal that we’ll be able to give everyone in Minnesota and up at the lake or up north experience through this next state park,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty expressed confidence that the state would purchase the land from owner U.S. Steel, saying at one point that the deal won’t fall apart.

But now, Pawlenty appears to have all but given up on the park.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA demands endocrine tests on pesticides
The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said.

Researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals’ hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs. Known as endocrine disruptors, the chemicals may affect the hormones that humans and animals produce or secrete.
–The Washington Post

UM report documents ethanol’s water use
While recycling and other advancements have reduced water use in Minnesota’s corn-ethanol plants by a third of the levels of just a few years ago, increased reliance on irrigated corn has pushed water consumption to alarming levels in the desert Southwest and parts of California.

A University of Minnesota report notes that Minnesota’s 17 ethanol plants currently average about 3.5 gallons of water for each gallon of ethanol produced. This is down from about 10 gallons per gallon of ethanol just a decade earlier.

However, over-all water consumption rates rise quickly when ethanol is produced from corn that is irrigated, as it is on 207,000 acres in Minnesota or 3 percent of the state’s 7.8 million acres planted to corn.
–Minnpost.com

Lawmakers target Mississippi River management plan
The Mississippi River Critical Area Program guides development along a 72-mile stretch of the river through the Twin Cities metropolitan area, striving to balance environmental protection with local land-use preferences.

But some interests argue that the three-decade-old executive order needs an update.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Prior Lake mussel discovery spurs Minnetonka inspections
Lake Minnetonka boaters will feel new pressure this year to guard against spreading exotic water life following the recent discovery of zebra mussels in Prior Lake — the first metro-area lake to be infested by the unwanted shell creatures.

Officials plan a 30 percent increase in inspections of boats to look for ride-along aquatic life at public boat launches on Lake Minnetonka.
–The Star Tribune

Idaho requires fee to fight invasives
Under a new Idaho law, all motorized and non-motorized watercraft more than 10 feet long will be required to display an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker. They are expected to be available by the end of April.

The sticker prices are $10 for motorized boats registered in Idaho, $20 for other motorized vessels, and $5 for a nonmotorized vessel. Discounts for nonmotorized commercial fleets are available.
–The Idaho Statesman

Los Angeles raises water rates to spur conservation
Los Angeles businesses, landlords and residents will pay more for water starting June 1 if they don’t cut back at least 15 percent on usage under a plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power plan is aimed at sending water customers price incentives to encourage conservation.

The region is in the midst of a three-year drought, exacerbated by dwindling water allocations from the DWP’s Owens Valley aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s wholesale water supplier, announced it was cutting its allocations by about 10 percent, effective July 1.
–Los Angeles Business Journal

Bird deaths may result from salmonella, DNR says
Minnesota residents have found an increasing number of dead birds at feeders over the last couple of weeks. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a strain of salmonella may be to blame.

The bacteria that causes heavy mortality in birds is transmitted through the bird’s droppings.  The largest mortality seems to be in red polls and pine siskins. Two red polls that died recently in northern Minnesota were sent to the DNR pathology lab and tested positive for salmonella.
–Minnesota DNR

China faces water crisis
Over the past year getting clean water has been a struggle for many in China. In February one of the most severe droughts to hit China in a half-century affected some 5 million people and 2.5 million livestock in the provinces of Hebei and Henan, near Beijing. Farther south in Yancheng, Jiangsu, 300 kilometers from Shanghai, more than 200,000 people were cut off from clean water for three days when a chemical factory dumped carbolic acid into a river. Just before the Olympics last June, the coastal city of Qingdao, site of the sailing events, saw an explosion of algae in nearby waters that may have been caused by pollution.
–BusinessWeek

High Plains Aquifer down 9% since pumping began
The High Plains Aquifer, the sea of fresh water under the Great Plains, is about 9 percent smaller since irrigators and cities started tapping it in about 1950, according to a new report.

The total amount of drainable water in the aquifer in 2007 was about 2.9 billion acre-feet, a decline of about 270 million acre-feet since before development, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a report .

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the volume of water that would cover one acre to a depth of 1 foot.
–The Omaha World-Herald


Florida suit seeks to force EPA water quality review
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of letting Florida flout federal clean water requirements.

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said Monday the group is seeking a court order for EPA to conduct an independent review of a state list of water bodies and decide which ones need stricter pollution limits.
–The Associated Press

Ag groups seek to overturn pesticide ruling
Twenty-two agricultural organizations asked that the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear a landmark pesticide case, even as the Environmental Protection Agency, a party to the case, declined to do so. A January opinion on National Cotton Council of America v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from a three-judge panel was the first U.S. court ruling that pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation and permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The agriculture groups submitted their request in a friend of the court brief, arguing the decision ignored the definition in CWA of “point source” and that point sources are regulated only where they convey pollutants to navigable waters, not where they convey things that may at some later point result in water pollution.
–Wisconsin AgConnection

Dairy industry seeks to cut cows’ greenhouse gases
The U.S. dairy industry wants to engineer the “cow of the future” to pass less gas, a project aimed at cutting the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, industry leaders said.

The cow project aims to reduce intestinal methane, the single largest component of the dairy industry’s carbon footprint, said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center in Rosemont, Ill.
–The Associated Press

Pollution concerns, frog calls and smuggled dish soap

March 30, 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.

Drinking water pollution tops concerns, poll shows
Pollution of drinking water is Americans’ No. 1 environmental concern, with 59% saying they worry “a great deal” about the issue, according to a new Gallup Poll.

All eight environmental issues tested in the 2009 Gallup Environment survey, conducted March 5-8, appear to be important to Americans, evidenced by the finding that a majority of Americans say they worry at least a fair amount about each one. However, on the basis of substantial concern — that is, the percentage worrying “a great deal” about each — there are important distinctions among them.

Four water-related issues on the poll fill the top spots in this year’s ranking. In addition to worrying about pollution of drinking water, roughly half of Americans also express a high degree of worry about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (52% worry a great deal about this), and water and soil contamination from toxic waste (52%). About half worry about the maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water for household needs (49%).
–The Gallup Poll

EPA finding pushes Obama on climate change
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

Under that law, EPA’s conclusion — that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public’s health and welfare — could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation’s future environmental trajectory. The agency’s finding, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget without fanfare, also reversed one of the Bush administration’s landmark decisions on climate change, and it indicated anew that President Obama’s appointees will push to address the issue of warming despite the potential political costs.
–The Washington Post

Human drugs found in fish near treatment plants
Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression, researchers reported.

Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.
–The Associated Press

Listen for some croaks, help with some research
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program is recruiting volunteers to participate in its ongoing statewide frog and toad calling survey.

Since 1996, volunteers have collected data by listening to and identifying frog and toad species on specified 10-stop routes. The results provide information on where species are located and how their populations change in abundance and distribution.

For information, click here. Want to listen to a frog? Click here.
Minnesota DNR

Spokane phosphate ban sparks dishwasher revolt
The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers.

They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don’t work as well.
–The Associated Press

Water issues now part of power-generating calculus
Last month, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a utility that provides power to mostly rural areas, agreed to conduct a major study to see if it might meet growing energy needs through energy efficiency and not a big, new coal-fired power plant, as it had proposed for southeast Colorado.

One reason for the move was a challenge by Environment Colorado, an advocacy organization, about the amount of water a new plant would require.
–The Wall Street Journal

Firm plans trash-to-diesel plant in Rosemount
Plans for a plant outside Rosemount that would turn trash into diesel fuel are moving along, despite early concerns from nearby cities.

The Empire Township Board approved a zoning change and comprehensive plan amendment Tuesday that will allow Rational Energies LLC to build a 200,000 square-foot biomass gasification facility on about 50 acres at the intersection of Hwy. 52 and County Road 46.
–Star Tribune

Great Lakes ice cover diminishing over time
Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined more than 30 percent since the 1970s, leaving the world’s largest system of freshwater lakes open to evaporation and lower water levels, according to scientists associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They’re concerned about how the milder winter freeze may affect the environment. But they’re also trying to come to terms with a contradiction: The same climate factors that might keep lake ice from freezing might make freezing more likely if lake levels drop due to evaporation.
–The Associated Press

Big wilderness bill passes Congress
Congress set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness — from California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The legislation is on its way to President Barack Obama for his likely signature.

The House approved the bill, 285-140, the final step in a long legislative road that began last year.
–The Associated Press

EPA reverses stand on mountaintop mining
In a sharp reversal of Bush administration policies, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency planned an aggressive review of permit requests for mountaintop coal mining, citing serious concerns about potential harm to water quality.

The administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said her agency had sent two letters to the Army Corps of Engineers in which it expressed concern about two proposed mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky involving mountaintop removal, a form of strip mining that blasts the tops off mountains and dumps leftover rock in valleys, burying streams.
–The New York Times

Ethanol industry faces scrutiny on feed byproduct
The ethanol industry must be wondering where the bottom is. Profits are slim or non-existent and about 20 percent of all U.S. plants are shut down. In addition, ethanol’s main by-product, which is sold as livestock feed, has raised potential food safety concerns. Several studies have linked the by-product known as distillers grain to elevated rates of E. coli in cattle. And now, distillers grain is facing further scrutiny because the Food and Drug Administration has found that it often contains antibiotics leftover from making ethanol.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Water a new cash crop for California farmers
As Don Bransford prepares for his spring planting season, he is debating which is worth more: the rice he grows on his 700-acre farm north of Sacramento, or the water he uses to cultivate it.

After three years of drought in California, water is now a potential cash crop. Last fall, the state activated its Drought Water Bank program for the first time since 1994. Under the program, farmers can choose to sell some of the water they would usually use to grow their crops to parched cities, counties and agriculture districts.
–The Wall Street Journal

Las Vegas water pipeline opposed
A coalition of ranchers, farmers and conservationists is turning up the volume on efforts to block a plan to pipe billions of gallons of groundwater a year from the northeast part of Nevada to Las Vegas.

A coalition lawyer says State Engineer Tracy Taylor relied on bad data and flawed reasoning in deciding last July to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority pump some 6.1 billion gallons of water a year from the rural Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
–The Associated Press

Snail evolves larger shells to fight invasive crab
With all the recent changes in the oceans, like dying coral reefs and collapsing commercial fisheries, it’s easy to forget that most changes occur over the longer term. Sometimes the incremental changes are so slight that they aren’t noticeable for decades.

A case in point is described in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jonathan A. D. Fisher of Queen’s University in Ontario, Peter S. Petraitis of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues: They report on a large size increase in the shells of a well-studied intertidal snail, the Atlantic dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus), around Mount Desert Island in Maine over the last century.
–The New York Times

USDA gardening zones to reflect climate change
As winter retreats northward across the nation, gardeners are cleaning tools and turning attention to spring planting. But climate change is adding a new wrinkle, and now a standard reference – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map – is about to make very clear how much rising temperatures have shifted planting zones northward.

The guide, last updated in 1990, shows where various species can be expected to thrive.  A revision is expected sometime this year, and while the agency hasn’t released details, horticulturalists and experts who have helped with the revision expect the new map to extend plants’ northern ranges and paint a sharp picture of the continent’s gradual warming over the past few decades.
–The Daily Climate

Nestle spring water plan sparks Colorado fight
A plan to suck, truck and bottle Arkansas Valley spring water has residents here crusading against the world’s largest food and beverage company.

“Nestle is seeking to drain the blood of Chaffee County,” said Salida local Daniel Zettler during a fiery public hearing last week.
–The Denver Post

USGS studies endocrine-disruptors in Chesapeake Bay
Fish health and reproductive issues in the Chesapeake Bay drainage may be associated with fish exposure to hormone-mimicking compounds and other chemicals.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have studied yellow perch, a species that has declined in recent years, and found that differences in the egg quality of these fish is occurring in some sites they sampled.  In addition, scientists sampled smallmouth bass and other species from major fish kills in the South Branch of the Potomac and the Shenandoah River. They found the fish were infected with a variety of types of skin lesions and a number of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
–U.S. Geological Survey

EPA nominee withdraws, citing investigation
President Obama’s nominee for U.S. EPA’s second highest post abruptly pulled out of the Senate confirmation process because of an investigation into the nonprofit group where he once served on the board of directors.

Jon Cannon, a former top EPA lawyer, withdrew from consideration as deputy administrator after learning America’s Clean Water Foundation “has become the subject of scrutiny.”
–The New York Times