Posts Tagged ‘ethanol’

Ethanol plant faces pollution penalty

November 28, 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.

Corn Plus ethanol plant penalized – again
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Corn Plus will pay a $310,000 civil penalty to resolve violations of the air-quality permit issued to the company’s ethanol-production facility in Winnebago.

The violations, occurring from 2008 to 2010, were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its air quality permit.

A staff inspection in August 2009 found violations of Minnesota laws and rules as well as permit conditions. The inspection confirmed that some of the violations were not previously reported to the MPCA as required by the facility’s permit. MPCA staff requested more monitoring records and discovered many repeated data patterns that indicated Corn Plus had falsified up to a year’s worth of monitoring data, primarily relating to operations of the facility’s air-emissions-control equipment.

In March 2011, staff from the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency interviewed the facility’s environmental manager and requested more monitoring records. The facility was issued a grand jury subpoena at that time by the EPA. After reviewing the records, EPA and MPCA staff identified more potentially false data from 2010.

Last month, Corn Plus was charged by the EPA with a felony for falsifying information about its pollution-control equipment. These actions follow an $891,000 settlement with the MPCA in January 2010, and another criminal charge from the EPA in late 2009 for water-quality violations.
–MPCA News Release

New UN report cites degraded land and water resources
Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report..

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”

Today a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report says.

No region is immune: systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.
—Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN news release

Photo contest seeks signs of winter
Calling all Photographers…. Check out Freshwater Society’s Facebook page and submit your best photo of the first signs of winter! Winning photos will be published in the 2013 Weatherguide Environment Calendar! The deadline for submission is Dec. 31.

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Darby Nelson, a Freshwater Society board member, will talk about  and read excerpts from his new book, For Love of Lakes,  in a book-signing event at 6 p.m.  Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Student Center Theater on the University of  Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Read a Freshwater article about the book and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it.

Minnehaha Creek district eyes expanded role
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District is about to make what it says is one of its most important—and potentially expensive—decisions in recent memory.

Citing internal study and consensus that invasive species are the No. 1 threat to the watershed’s long-term vitality and health, the district is considering taking a lead role in the fight to prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers—something that has historically been the Department of Natural Resource’s responsibility.

“We would like to see the DNR take a very strong, very active role in this, but we don’t feel the state has the resources to protect our resources—nor do they have the staff,” said Eric Evenson, the MCWD’s top administrator.
 –Minnetonka Patch

Rare isotope tracks ancient aquifer
The Nubian Aquifer, the font of fabled oases in Egypt and Libya, stretches languidly across 770,000 square miles of northern Africa, a pointillist collection of underground pools of water migrating, ever so slowly, through rock and sand toward the Mediterranean Sea.

The aquifer is one of the world’s oldest. But its workings — how it flows and how quickly surface water replenishes it — have been hard to understand, in part because the tools available to study it have provided, at best, a blurry image. Now, to solve some of the puzzles, physicists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne  National Laboratory in Illinois have turned to one of the rarest particles on earth: an elusive radioactive isotope usually ricocheting around in the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour.
The New York Times

Budget collapse leaves winners, losers
Count pheasant hunters as among those likely disappointed that Congress is plowing under that new farm bill. Biofuel producers, on the other hand, may be happy to see the bill go.

Those groups were among the winners and losers in the hastily crafted bill that the House and Senate agriculture committees had planned to stuff in a deficit-reduction plan that a congressional supercommittee was charged with writing. The supercommittee gave up trying to agree on the plan, leaving the agriculture committees in Congress to start over on the farm legislation.

The agriculture committee leaders did all their work on the bill behind closed doors and never released an actual text of the legislation.

But Pheasants Forever, an advocacy group, successfully lobbied the lawmakers for provisions that would have steered conservation funding to landowners who preserved grassy areas as habitat for the game bird.

The ethanol industry was dismayed to find out that the bill, according to a summary that leaked out, would have blocked the Agriculture Department from subsidizing the installation of service station pumps that can dispense higher blends of the biofuel. The legislation also contained no money for subsidizing farmers who provided crop residues and other new feedstocks for making biofuels.
–The Des Moines Register

Septic systems threaten Cape Cod waters
When the tide rolls out, the beaches on the west coast of Cape Cod often turn a shade of lime green, with splotches of a slimy substance that locals say resembles black mayonnaise and smells like rotten eggs.

In the warmer months, a film of algae spreads through the harbor in Cataumet and the opaque waters turn a copper color, veiling the little life left on the seabed.

“There can be so much algae in the water that they look like huge lily pads, like you can walk across them on the water,’’ said Scott Zeien, owner of Kingman Yacht Center, who has been swimming and sailing off this Bourne village since he was a child. “It’s really gross. It looks like a bad day on the Mississippi River – not a place anyone would want to swim.’’

The problem, a growing body of evidence suggests, stems from the dramatic rise in development on the Cape and the lack of sufficient waste-disposal systems. The remnants of sewage from septic tanks of the more than 200,000 full-time Cape residents is seeping into the ground water and polluting estuaries, bays, and other bodies of water from Bourne to Orleans.
–The Boston Globe

Add hairy crazy ant to the list of invasives
America is under siege — not by a foreign power, but by invasive species slowly working their way across the nation, leaving a sometimes-devastated and often-changed landscape in their wake.

Just as Dutch elm disease from Asia removed an iconic tree from the American landscape beginning in the 1940s, the emerald ash borer may conquer the ash tree in coming years. West Nile virus from Africa killed 57 Americans last year. And work crews often encounter giant Burmese pythons in South Florida.

The latest addition to the list of non-native creepy-crawlies is the hairy crazy ant. The tiny foragers are believed to have come from South America. They first got to the Caribbean in the late 19th century and are working their way through Florida and the Southeast. First discovered nine years ago in Texas by exterminator Tom Rasberry, the ants are now also in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va.
–USA Today

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Cows, carp, salamanders, muskies and more

July 18, 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.

House bill would curb EPA’s water regulation
The Environmental Protection Agency’s powers to set clean-water standards would be limited under legislation passed by the Republican-led U.S. House over threats of a veto by the Obama administration.

 The bill blocks the EPA from tightening water pollutant limits without a state’s consent if the agency previously approved the state standard. The measure, which passed 239-184, is part of an effort to rein in what Republicans say is an agency’s regulatory overreach threatening the economy. Sixteen Democrats joined Republicans to support the measure.

Supporters said limits on the EPA would give farmers, coal companies and other businesses that discharge pollutants into waterways greater certainty that standards won’t be changed.

 The EPA is engaged in an “unprecedented regulatory grab” during a “difficult time in our economy,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during debate.

The bill is the “single-worst assault on clean-water protections in a generation,” Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
–Bloomberg

 Asian carp: How big an impact in Great Lakes?
The question of how deadly an Asian carp invasion would be to the Great Lakes has led to a fierce debate among researchers, environmental groups and governments, who disagree on the answer.

 The issue has become urgent as researchers have found that, while much of the public’s attention has been focused on the Chicago canal where an electric fence so far is keeping the fish away from Lake Michigan, there are at least 13 other lesser-known pathways for the fish to get into the lakes. Most allow carp to breach wetlands during floods, dumping them into rivers leading to the lakes.

 In Indiana’s Wabash River, spawning carp actually are closer to Lake Erie than spawning populations near Chicago are to Lake Michigan.

 If they do get in, Duane Chapman, a leading Asian carp expert, said the fish probably could survive in all the Great Lakes, including cold Superior, because they feed in the top layers of water, where the temperatures are warmer. But spawning might not happen in all of them.

 Not all scientists agree; some say fears of the fish devastating the lakes are severely exaggerated.
–The Detroit Free Press

Study documents herbicides entering the atmosphere
When soil moisture levels increase, pesticide losses to the atmosphere through volatilization also rise. In one long-term field study, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists found that herbicide volatilization consistently resulted in herbicide losses that exceed losses from field runoff.

 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Timothy Gish and ARS micrometeorologist John Prueger led the investigation, which looked at the field dynamics of atrazine and metolachlor, two herbicides commonly used in corn production. Both herbicides are known to contaminate surface and ground water, which was primarily thought to occur through surface runoff.

Gish works at the ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., and Prueger works at the agency’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa.

Prueger and Gish observed that when air temperatures increased, soil moisture levels had a tremendous impact on how readily atrazine and metolachlor volatilized into the air, a key factor that had not been included in previous models of pesticide volatilization. When soils were dry and air temperatures increased, there was no increase in herbicide volatilization, but herbicide volatilization increased significantly when temperatures rose and soils were wet.

Most surprising was that throughout the study, herbicide volatilization losses were significantly larger than surface runoff. When averaged over the two herbicides, loss by volatilization was about 25 times larger than losses from surface runoff.
–USDA News Release

 Endangered salamander sparks San Antonio conservation
Who would believe that a translucent sightless amphibian that dwells only in dark underground caves could force a big Texas city to not only slash its water use but make water waste illegal? But the rare, four-inch Texas blind salamander has done pretty much just that – and spawned an unusual water story in San Antonio, where impressive conservation efforts are now being tested by one of the worst droughts in memory.

 While most Americans can’t even name the source of their drinking water, many San Antonians know not just their water source – an underground limestone formation called the Edwards Aquifer– but its height above sea level. That’s because that level, which is posted every day on the city water authority’s website, determines whether they can sprinkle their lawns — and whether the water police are likely to be out in full force.  Recently the Edwards level has measured between 640 and 650 feet, which means that residents can irrigate only once a week. If the aquifer’s level drops below 640 feet, the city will declare Stage 3 Drought and allow landscape watering only every other week.

 So what’s all the fuss about the level of the Edwards Aquifer?  Enter the Texas blind salamander.
–The National Geographic Daily News

Have some sympathy for the reviled invasives
Maybe weeds and invasive species aren’t such bad things. Listen to National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” host Ira Flato interview two experts who suggest we all might want to revise our opinions on invasives.
–National Public Radio

Chinese farm feeds on pollutants
China has some of the world’s worst water pollution. And the country’s farms are responsible for a big part of that problem. So there is a certain irony in visiting a farm here that purports to actually help reduce pollution from other sources. But that’s the claim of a 100-acre hydroponic farm in China’s southwest.

 The farm on the edge of Dianchi lake grows some 30 types of vegetables, including long green rows of lettuce and spinach that sway in the wind and float on platforms with their roots in the water.

 Where other farms would need fertilizer to provide nutrients for their crops, the vegetables here get their nutrients from sewage that’s been dumped in the water by the city of Kunming and its environs. Sales representative Cao Jiangrui said that’s all the fertilizer they need. She said government inspections to prove the vegetables are safe to eat, and that by putting the nutrients to use, the pilot project helps, in a small way, to clean up Dianchi lake.
–Public Radio International

 Research: Dairy cows pollute less on pasture
Computer simulation studies by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than its more sheltered sisters.

 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Al Rotz led a team that evaluated how different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm would affect the environment. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.  Rotz works at the ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit in University Park, Pa.

 For this study, Rotz and his team used the Integrated Farm System Model, a computer program that simulates the major biological and physical processes and interactions of a crop, beef or dairy farm. The scientists collected a range of field data on grazing systems, manure management and their effects on nutrient loss to the environment. Then they used their farm model, supported by the field data, to evaluate the environmental dynamics of four different dairy farms in all types of weather over 25 years.

 The model generated estimates for ammonia emissions from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, soil erosion and phosphorus losses from field runoff. Estimates for emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from both primary production and the secondary production of pesticides, fuels, electricity and other resources were also considered.

 Compared to high confinement systems, keeping dairy cows outdoors all year lowered levels of ammonia emission by about 30 percent. The model results also indicated that the total emissions for the greenhouse gases methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were 8 percent lower in a year-round outdoor production system than in a high-production confinement system.
–Science Daily

Study finds benefits in switchgrass production
The Midwest could produce more food, more fuel, less nitrogen runoff and lower greenhouse gas emissions if farmers switched some corn plantings to dedicated energy crops, according to a new study.

 A move from corn to next-generation ethanol feedstocks miscanthus and switchgrass could switch the Corn Belt from a net greenhouse gas source to a sink, according to the research, published in this month’s edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The paper, written by researchers with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Colorado State University, the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Research Service and the Energy Biosciences Institute, focuses not on the conversion of non-agricultural land to biofuels production but on how changed planting patterns could affect agricultural outputs and the environment.

Pointing out that 30 percent of the 2009 corn crop was dedicated to ethanol, the authors argue that redirecting the land on which that corn was planted could have a significant impact on domestic land use without triggering major food and feed market changes.
–The New York Times

 State shutdown may affect muskie record
Put an asterisk next to Art Lyons and his 54-pound, 56-inch muskellunge that has held the mantle of Minnesota state record since 1957.

 An Arizona angler caught a bigger one, he and his family say, but with the state Department of Natural Resources largely shut down with the rest of Minnesota’s government, they stumbled in their attempts to get the fish in the record books.

 And with the 57.5-inch, 54.5- to 55-pound bruiser now lying in pieces in a taxidermist’s studio, we’ll likely never know for sure.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin court affirms DNR role in groundwater
A unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholds the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ authority to protect all waters in the state, including groundwater.

 At stake in Lake Beulah v. DNR was whether the DNR had authority to consider the impact pumping groundwater has on lakes, rivers and streams. In a 7-0 decision, the Court found that the DNR has both the authority and the duty to consider the environmental impact of pumping large quantities of groundwater.

 “We conclude that… the DNR has the authority and general duty to consider whether a proposed high capacity well may harm waters of the state,” reads the decision written by Justice Patrick Crooks. “We further hold that to comply with this general duty, the DNR must consider the environmental impact of a proposed high capacity well when presented with sufficient concrete, scientific evidence of potential harm to waters of the state.”
–The Ashland Current

 2009-10 West Coast beach erosion was severe
Knowing that the U.S. west coast was battered during the winter before last by a climatic pattern expected more often in the future, scientists have now pieced together a San Diego-to-Seattle assessment of the damage wrought by that winter’s extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels. Getting a better understanding of how the 2009-10 conditions tore away and reshaped shorelines will help coastal experts better predict future changes that may be in store for the Pacific coast, the researchers say.

“The stormy conditions of the 2009-10 El Niño winter eroded the beaches to often unprecedented levels at sites throughout California and vulnerable sites in the Pacific Northwest,” said Patrick Barnard, USGS coastal geologist. In California, for example, winter wave energy was 20 percent above average for the years dating back to 1997, resulting in shoreline erosion that exceeded the average by 36 percent, he and his colleagues found.

Among the most severe erosion was at Ocean Beach in San Francisco where the winter shoreline retreated 184 ft., 75 percent more than in a typical winter. The erosion resulted in the collapse of one lane of a major roadway and led to a $5 million emergency remediation project. In the Pacific Northwest, the regional impacts were moderate, but the southerly shift in storm tracks, typical of El Niño winters, resulted in severe local wave impacts to the north-of-harbor mouths and tidal inlets. For example, north of the entrance to Willapa Bay along the Washington coast, 345 ft. of shoreline erosion during the winter of 2009-10 destroyed a road.
–USGS News Release

Asian carp, ethanol and ‘fracking’

April 25, 2011
DNR staffer holds bighead carp

DNR supervisor Brad Parsons holds carp caught April 18. (DNR photo)

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.

Asian carp caught in St. Croix
A rogue bighead carp was pulled from the Lower St. Croix River , adding to fears the invasive creatures are slowly working their way into Minnesota border waters.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound fish  just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, agency officials said.

 It was the seventh bighead carp found in eastern border waters since 1996 but the sixth since 2003. DNR officials stressed the fish appears to be a loner that swam north and there’s no indication yet of a reproducing population in Minnesota portions of the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers.

 “Large migratory river fish — that’s what they do … they migrate,” said Brad Parsons, DNR central region fisheries manager.

“It’s alarming, but it’s one fish,” added DNR communications director Chris Niskanen. 

Bighead and silver carp, another type of Asian carp noted for its leaping abilities, have been on the agency’s radar for years because of the threat they pose to the state’s $2.7 billion fishing industry.

Imported from Asia four decades ago to control algae and other problems in Southern fish farms, they eventually escaped or were released into the wild and have been slowly making their way up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to southeastern Minnesota and South Dakota. They consume huge amounts of tiny plankton, upsetting the food chain and pushing out native fish, eventually making up 90 percent of some area’s fish biomass.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Flood waters may have helped carp reach St. Croix
A 27-pound bighead carp’s journey up the Mississippi River might have been eased by floodwaters, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expert said. 

Luke Skinner, invasive species supervisor for the DNR, said the fish a commercial fisherman caught in the St. Croix River might have used high water to find its way to where the two rivers merge.

The DNR is concerned about the invasive fish disrupting Minnesota’s river ecosystems.

 “It is cause for alarm because now we’re finding something pretty high up in the river, and we just don’t have a lot of ways to slow their spread, especially big river systems like this that are prone to flooding,” Skinner told MPR’s Morning Edition.

 All the locks, dams and gates are open this spring to allow high water to flow through, Skinner said. But even when the locks are closed, fish can get in. Skinner said there needs to be more fish barriers that would prevent invasive fish species from spreading. Listen to an MPR question-and-answer interview with Skinner.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Lamberton ethanol plant faces water penalties
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton has agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s MPCA-issued environmental permits at its production facility.

The agreement covers violations that have occurred since the facility began production in August 2009.  From startup until recently, the company’s operations have resulted in numerous violations of the facility’s air quality and water quality permits.

 The most serious violations involved the facility’s wastewater-treatment system.  Part of the system includes an on-site constructed pond which is permitted to receive only reject water from the reverse osmosis treatment system, yet unpermitted discharges were made to the pond repeatedly from other components of the facility.  This caused the capacity of the pond to be exceeded.  To get rid of the excess the company applied wastewater from the pond onto cropland, a treatment method for which the facility is not permitted. 

There were also a number of violations of the facility’s air quality permit, including failure to conduct monitoring at required intervals, maintain required operating parameters, maintain monitoring records, and submit required data to the MPCA.
–MPCA News Release

 Aging levees guard cities
Faced with epic floods in the late 1960s, dozens of communities across Minnesota hurriedly shaped dirt, clay, sand, gravel or whatever else was available into temporary walls to hold off the floodwaters.

 In most cases, those levees were supposed to be removed once the water receded.

 But more than 40 years later, ”emergency” levees remain the primary line of defense against floods, protecting hundreds of homes and businesses in numerous towns and cities. In an era of rising water and falling budgets, officials are viewing them with both thankfulness and nervousness.

 “We’re lucky they did it,” said Dale Graunke, mayor and lifelong resident of Delano, which late last month held off the fourth-highest crest on the South Fork of the Crow River. “But we don’t know the material. And if that levee breaks, 47 homes would be inundated. It’s all over the place.”
–The Star Tribune

 Obama acknowledges concern on ‘fracking’
President Barack Obama acknowledged concerns about natural gas drilling and groundwater contamination as part of a wide-ranging monologue on energy production at a town hall meeting.

 Obama has said natural gas should be part of a “clean energy standard” going forward but noted concerns about pollution. Although he didn’t mention hydraulic fracturing by name, the practice that has allowed new gas plays in the U.S. is increasingly controversial because of alleged links to groundwater contamination.

“We have a lot of natural gas here in this country,” Obama said. “The problem is, is that extracting it from the ground — the technologies aren’t as developed as we’d like and so there are some concerns that it might create pollution in our groundwater, for example.

 “So we’ve got to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we do it in a way that doesn’t poison people,” he added.
–Politico.com

Maryland to study septic system pollution
Gov. Martin O’Malley created a task force to figure out how to curb pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from septic systems, saying he hoped the study would help overcome “fears” of the legislation he had introduced this year that would have banned major housing developments relying on them.

“We must find a way to grow in a clean, green, more sustainable way,” O’Malley said prior to signing an executive order establishing the task force. He held the signing ceremony at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on the Severn River, where household septic systems account for roughly 30 percent of the nitrogen fouling the water.

Currently, about 411,000 Maryland households are on septic systems. Although a relatively small source of nitrogen pollution baywide compared with sewage plants or farm runoff, septic leakage of the harmful nutrient could increase by 36 percent over the next 25 years if nothing is done, state officials project. 

O’Malley’s bid to curb major housing developments on septic systems failed to get out of committee in Annapolis after rural lawmakers, farmers and developers raised an outcry, warning that it would throttle growth and cost jobs in the state’s rural and suburban counties.
–The Baltimore Sun 

Florida governor ask EPA to back off
The day after the Florida House passed a bill to ban implementation of water quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, Gov. Rick Scott asked the agency to rescind a January 2009 determination that the federal rules are necessary for Florida.

Opponents of the federal requirement say the state is better equipped to decide how best to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which is intended to manage nitrogen and phosphorous pollution of lakes, rivers, streams and bays. They say the EPA standards will be costly to implement, don’t address specific conditions of local waterways and provide little biological benefit.

 According to Scott’s office, the petition sent to the EPA details eight pollution control measures already in place Florida that mirror EPA recommendations for effective water pollution control.

 “Florida is one of the few states that has a comprehensive program in place to address excess nutrients, and we continue to lead the nation in developing innovative tools to ensure the health of our state’s waterways,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the EPA to reach an agreement that will promote clean water standards in the way that makes the most sense for our state.”

The U.S. EPA released pollution standards for Florida waterways in December 2010 as part of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, who sued the agency for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
–The Miami Herald

3M sued by state; Aasen to lead MPCA

January 3, 2011

State sues 3M over perfluorochemicals in water
3M Co. must pay for polluting Minnesota’s water, according to the Minnesota attorney general’s office.

The state sued 3M in Hennepin County for allowing PFCs — perfluorochemicals — to leach into groundwater in Washington County over several decades. The company also allegedly discharged PFCs into the Mississippi River.

The lawsuit does not ask for specific damages. But potential damages would be in the tens of millions of dollars, which would make the case one of the largest environmental suits in Minnesota history.

 Attorney General Lori Swanson said her office agreed with 3M in May to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. Those negotiations failed.

 “3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals,” Swanson said. “The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters.”

 The suit takes a novel approach by claiming the PFCs hurt the environment — but not people.

That makes it different from a landmark 2009 lawsuit. That suit filed by a group of Washington County residents alleged the PFCs harmed people who drank the water.

 In that trial, lawyers pointed out that mega-doses of PFCs have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems in mice. But a judge ruled, in effect, that the traces of PFCs were so small that no one was hurt.

 The trial ended in a jury decision that supported 3M.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Aasen named to lead MPCA
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton filled three prominent jobs in his administration, naming heads for the education and health departments as well as a potentially controversial choice for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The new education commissioner will be Brenda Cassellius, who grew up in a Minneapolis housing project, began her career as a social studies teacher in St. Paul and has been a school administrator in the Twin Cities and Memphis. The choice for health commissioner, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, is the longtime leader of the student health service at the University of Minnesota.

 MPCA Commissioner-designate Paul Aasen was director of government relations and policy for Gov. Jesse Ventura and more recently a director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Aasen’s appointment was lauded by officials from the Freshwater Society and the Minnesota Farmers Union, but his involvement in environmental litigation may make him a controversial selection for some Republicans.
–The Star Tribune 

 EPA announces massive Chesapeake clean-up plan
The Environmental Protection Agency established an aggressive “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay, spelling out steps that six states and the District must take by 2025 to put the troubled estuary on the path to recovery.

The legally enforceable road map – more than 200 pages long, with more than 3,000 pages of appendices – will affect a variety of activities in the region, including how pig and chicken farms dispose of waste and the way golf course operators fertilize their fairways.

 The plan is “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation,” said Shawn M. Garvin, the agency’s regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic region. It is intended to fundamentally change the tenor of the long-failed Chesapeake cleanup. The EPA once preached cooperation with state efforts it was supposed to oversee. Now, it is playing cop, promising legal punishments if the states don’t live up to their pledges to cut pollution.

 Some state and local officials warned the plan could be costly and hard to execute, particularly at a time when state budgets are under immense pressure.
–The Washington Post

China plans $30 billion water conservation effort
The Chinese government is expected to spend about 200 billion yuan ($30.10 billion) on water conservation projects in 2011, a tenth more than in 2010, the state-run China Daily reported.

 Priority will be given to improving irrigation to ensure grain security and projects to combat drought and floods, the newspaper said.

 It cited Water Resources Minister Chen Lei as telling a government meeting that some of the investment would come from a 10 percent levy on income earned from the leasing of land. The newspaper did not elaborate.

 Other funds would go toward renovating water supply infrastructure for main agriculture regions and ensuring safe drinking water for 60 million rural people, the newspaper added.

Over the next 10 years, Chen said he hopes the country can double its current average annual investment in water conservation construction,” it said.

The government has invested about 700 billion yuan on water conservation over the past five years, the newspaper said.
–Reuters

Heron Lake ethanol plant to pay $60,000 penalty
 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC has agreed to pay a $66,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Heron Lake in southwest Minnesota.

The agreement covers violations that date back to when the company began construction of the facility in October 2005.  During subsequent operations beginning in September 2007, the facility violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits on a number of occasions. 

The air quality violations covered in the agreement include exceedances of permitted emissions limits, failure to conduct monitoring as required by the permit, failure to maintain emissions-control equipment as required, and failure to report or certify data to the MPCA as required. 

Water quality violations covered in the agreement include failure to obtain prior MPCA approval to use chemical additives in wastewater processing, failure to provide specified holding times for samples, failure to monitor for specified pollutants at the frequency required, exceedances of permitted effluent limits, and failure to install or maintain required flow-monitoring equipment prior to discharging. 
–MPCA News Release

Granite Falls ethanol plant seeks expansion
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  has completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for a proposed expansion of the Granite Falls Energy ethanol facility at Granite Falls, Minn.  The EAW will be available for the public to comment through January 26th, 2011.    

Granite Falls Energy, LLC proposes to expand its existing fuel-ethanol production facility by increasing its permitted capacity to produce un-denatured ethanol from 49.9 million gallons per year to 70 MMGY.  The expansion would be achieved by adding additional equipment to support ethanol production.  The additional equipment will be located within the facility’s current property boundary.  The primary fuel for the facility will be natural gas.

The expansion requires modification of the facility’s wastewater permit  and air emission permit.  The draft modified permits will be placed on public notice on or shortly after the start of the public comment period for the EAW, and will remain open for comment for 30 days.

A public information meeting will be held January 10, 2011, at 7:00 p.m., in the auditorium of the Minnesota West Technical and Community College in Granite Falls.  MPCA staff will also be available for one hour before the meeting to answer questions in an open-house format. 

The EAW is a review of how a proposed project could potentially affect the environment.  The EAW also helps the MPCA determine if an Environmental Impact Statement, a more in-depth environmental review, is needed. 

Written comments on the GFE expansion project EAW must be received by 4:30 p.m. January 26th, 2011.  Comments should be sent to Steve Sommer, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.

Copies of the EAW are available for review on the MPCA’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/news/eaw/index.html
–MPCA News Release

China making electricity from desert sand
Scientists are testing out the nation’s first sand heat power plant, which went into operation December 10 in the desert in Wuhai, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to a Xinhua news report .

 During the day, air in the ground-level greenhouse is heated by the sun, forcing hot air to rise up through the brick chimney and drive a turbine positioned at the top of the plant.

 Then after the sun falls, heat absorbed by surrounding sand continues to heat greenhouse air, keeping the turbine running, according to Wei Yili, a professor specializing in solar power at Inner Mongolia’s University of Science and Technology.

 The plant, co-developed with Spain’s Technical University of Madrid, has an operational lifespan of about 70 years, much longer than that of wind farms and solar plants, which typically stand 20 to 25 years.
–Global Times

 Legacy logo celebrates  environment funding
If you wonder where all the money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is going, a new logo will tell you.

 The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Monday unveiled it’s new Legacy logo designed by Bernadette Stephenson of St. Cloud, one of 76 entries submitted as part of a state-wide contest.

 “The decision was tough because we had so many great entries to consider,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “We feel this logo is memorable, distinctive, and sophisticated. It also clearly illustrates the four funds.”

 The logo had to illustrate the clean water, outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage funds that were established following passage of the Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The contest was mandated by the 2010 Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

 GOP lawmaker  targets environmental  rules
It was a campaign theme almost as common as no-new-taxes for Republican candidates from Tom Emmer on down: Minnesota environmental regulators are paralyzing Minnesota farmers and business owners with needlessly complicated and time-consuming regulations.

Emmer lost the race for governor, but Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House and Senate. And Republican Rep. Tony Cornish is making sure that environmental regulation will be one of the first topics of discussion in the 2011 legislative session that starts next week.

“The regulations are so complex and so time-delaying it’s killing businesses,” said Cornish, a fifth-termer from rural Good Thunder.

Cornish asked for hearings in committees overseeing agriculture and the environment and said he has received a commitment for a hearing, probably before the end of January, from Rep. Denny McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Mankato Free Press

 L. Tahoe boat inspection rules praised
A watercraft inspection program prevented the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe in 2010, according to regional officials.

Watercraft inspectors managed by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, in cooperation with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, performed more than 8,000 boat inspections during the 2010 boating season, officials revealed this week. A total of 19,000 watercraft launches occurred with Tahoe-specific inspection seals.

Of those 11 watercraft containing aquatic invasive species were intercepted and decontaminated, officials confirmed.

“We’re very happy with the watercraft inspection program thus far,” said Patrick Stone, TRPA’s senior wildlife and fisheries biologist and lead for early detection monitoring of invasive mussels. “Investigations conducted around Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake and Echo Lake confirmed that quagga and zebra mussels have not established in our lakes. These results are a credit to the inspection program.”
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune

L.A. poised to capture urban runoff
It is one of the Southland’s enduring contradictions. The region that laid pipe across hundreds of miles and tunneled through mountains to import water also built an extensive storm drain system to get rid of rainfall as quickly as possible.

That’s exactly what happened recently, when tens of billions of gallons of runoff that could lessen the region’s need for those faraway sources were dumped into the Pacific. Enough water poured from Los Angeles streets to supply well over 130,000 homes for a year.

As Southern California’s traditional water supplies diminish under a variety of pressures, all that runoff sheeting across sidewalks and roads into the maws of storm drains is finally getting some respect.
“This isn’t wastewater until we waste it,” said Noah Garrison, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who co-wrote a 2009 paper on capturing and reusing storm water.

The report concluded that the region could increase local supplies by an amount equal to more than half of Los Angeles’ annual water demand by incorporating relatively simple water-harvesting techniques in new construction and redevelopments. These include installing cisterns and designing landscaping to retain runoff and let it seep into the ground.

Los Angeles is poised to adopt an ordinance that takes a step in that direction. Most new and redeveloped commercial, industrial and larger apartment projects would have to be designed to capture the runoff generated by the first three-quarters of an inch of rain. New single-family homes would have to install a rain-harvesting device, such as a rain barrel or a hose that diverts water from gutters to landscaping.
–The Los Angeles Times

Biologists try scents in battling lampreys
In the never-ending battle to prevent blood-sucking sea lamprey from wiping out some of the most popular fish species in the Great Lakes, biologists are developing new weapons that exploit three certainties in the eel-like parasites’ lives: birth, sex and death.

Researchers are beginning the third and final year of testing lab-refined mating pheromones — scents emitted by male lampreys to attract females. They’re also working on a mixture with the stench of rotting lamprey flesh, which live ones detest, and another that smells of baby lampreys, which adults love. If proven effective, the chemicals will be deployed across the region to steer the aquatic vermin to where they can be trapped or killed.

Early results appear promising. Yet no one expects the lures and repellents to finally rid the lakes of the despised invader and enable fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada to end a battle that has cost more than $400 million over five decades. Especially when a single spawning female lays up to 60,000 eggs.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Washington State cuts environmental funding
The bad economy can be hard on the environment as well as people.

 Earlier this month state lawmakers, faced with declining revenue from taxes and fees, reduced the state Department of Ecology’s budget by $5.8 million. They’d already reduced cut $38.9 million from the agency’s budget earlier this year and in 2009, as the effects of the Great Recession set in. Next year, even more could be taken out as Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing more trims.

 Environmentalists say the cuts are “heartbreaking” and will make it difficult to clean up waterways and other areas, but others say the cuts are necessary in a time when education and health care funding is also being slashed.

 “As the (income) dollars shrink, what we can provide shrinks,” said Erik Fairchild, the agency’s budget policy manager. “It’s less public health protection, less environmental protection, less field presence, less technical assistance (and) reduced loans and grants” for projects such as sewage treatment plants.

Ecology department operating budgets were on the rise before the economic crisis hit in late 2008, increasing from $402 million for the 2005-07 budget period to $457 million for 2007-09 and $440 million in the current budget.
–The Seattle Post- Intelligencer 

Huge copper mine planned in Arizona
When former miner Roy Chavez heard about plans to develop the nation’s largest copper mine near Superior, Ariz., he thought it might be the salvation of the economically struggling town where he’d grown up and served as mayor.

But as he learned more about the proposal to tap an ore body more than 7,000 feet deep with a method known as “block cave” mining, he changed his mind. Now he fears that the project would be environmentally destructive and limit Superior’s ability to develop tourism and other industries.

“Mining is the nature of the beast in this area. I support the industry and the livelihood it provides,” said Chavez, who comes from a mining family and worked in the Magma Copper mine nearby until it closed in 1996. “But there’s a situation here with this project that just doesn’t sit well with us.”
–The Washington Post

Farm tiling called major cause of hypoxia

October 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What will happen is unpredictable,” Swanson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Report: World’s rivers in crisis

October 4, 2010

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

Report: Water supply in doubt for 80% of world
The world’s rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

 The report, published in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world’s rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world’s human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.
–U.S. News & World Report

 Clean Water Council proposes $173 million for water
The Clean Water Council, which advises the Minnesota governor and Legislature on water policy, is seeking public comment on draft recommendations for spending $173 million over the next two years. That is up $21 million from the current budget cycle.

The recommendations propose broad categories of spending for the Clean Water Fund money the state will receive from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008. 

Under the recommendations: 

  • Thirty-nine percent of the money would be spend on protecting surface waters from diffuse pollution that comes from many sources and on restoring waters already damaged by that kind of pollution.
  •  Twenty percent would be spent on protecting and restoring waters damaged, or in danger of damage, from large single-source polluters, such as sewage treatment plants, industries and large feedlots.
  • Thirteen percent would be spent protecting and restoring watersheds, the land areas drained by surface waters.
  • Twelve percent would be spent on testing lakes and streams for pollution.
  • Eight percent each for drinking water protection and water research.

 The Clean Water Council comment period ends Oct. 14. To comment, contact Celine Lyman at celine.lyman@state.mn.us.

 It’s not just the economy, stupid.
Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently provided significant looks at Minnesota’s three major candidates for governor and their positions on major environmental issues. The issues include: alternative energy and nuclear power, sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota and agricultural pollution. To check out MPR reporter Stephanie Hemphill’s interviews, click here. To read Pioneer Press reporter Dennis Lien’s report, click here. 

EPA says Illinois soft on factory farms
Illinois is failing to crack down on water pollution from large confined-animal farms, the Obama administration announced in a stinging rebuke that gave the state a month to figure out how to fix its troubled permitting and enforcement programs. 

Responding to a petition from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its nearly yearlong investigation found widespread problems with the Illinois EPA’s oversight of confined-animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Many of the cattle, hog and chicken operations produce manure in amounts comparable to the waste generated by small towns. 

Federal investigators accused Illinois of failing to lock many farms into permits that limit water pollution. The state also has been slow to respond to citizen complaints or take formal enforcement action against big feedlots and dairies that violate federal and state environmental laws, the U.S. EPA said. 

As large “factory farms” have spread across the nation, they have prompted scores of complaints about manure odors and raised concerns about massive waste lagoons contaminating groundwater. The U.S. EPA’s 41-page report reflects President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to get tough with confined-animal operations, which steadily have replaced smaller family farms.
–ChicagoBreakingNews.com 

Fairmont ethanol plant to pay $285,000 penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Buffalo Lake Energy LLC has agreed to pay a $285,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Fairmont. 

The agreement covers violations that occurred since the facility began production in June 2008.  On numerous occasions the company’s operations violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits. 

The most significant source of the water quality violations was that the company built and operated a different wastewater treatment system than was permitted by the MPCA.  The system did not perform adequately to ensure that pollutants discharged from the facility met the permit’s effluent limits.  The facility discharged wastewater to Center Creek which violated its permitted limits for toxicity, a measure of potential harm to aquatic organisms.
–MPCA News Release 

EPA agrees to 30-delay in Florida rules
Federal environmental regulators have agreed to a one-month delay before forcing Florida to adopt controversial water pollution standards that critics contend could cost the state billions. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection had planned to impose the rules on Oct. 15, but agreed to push them back to review a gush of public comments, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. 

Nelson had written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging a postponement. 

In a news release, he said he supported tougher standards but was concerned by the potential costs and validity of the science. 

The proposed rules, which would place strict numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida lakes, rivers and streams, have been opposed by a coalition of water management agencies, utilities, industry, business and farming groups.
–The Miami Herald 

Toxic runoff found near BWCA
Pollution problems near the Boundary Waters are raising concerns about future Minnesota mining projects.

 Environmental groups have found high concentrations of metals leaching into streams and wetlands from two long-closed sources: one old test mine and one abandoned mine. The pollution runs off waste rock excavated decades ago and piled at the sites.

Alerted by a resident near Ely, Friends of the Boundary Waters collected samples of the seeping water at one of the sites this summer. 

An independent lab analysis confirmed that it contained arsenic, copper, nickel and iron at concentrations hundreds of times higher than state water quality standards allow for chronic exposure.
–The Star Tribune

MPG of U.S. cars barely budges in 25 years
As the U.S. seeks to reduce oil consumption, not all the news is bad: For years, automakers have been selling Americans cars with ever more efficient engines. In fact, a car purchased today is able to extract nearly twice as much power from a gallon of gas as its counterpart did 25 years ago.

The trouble is that over the same period, cars have become bigger and more powerful. As a result, the average mileage of the cars and light trucks on the road in the United States has barely budged since 1985.

“Automakers have been improving efficiency for years,” said John DeCicco, a University of Michigan senior lecturer who studies the issue. “But those gains haven’t gone into fuel economy. They’ve gone into giving consumers cars with greater size and muscle.”
–The Washington Post

China plans $62 billion water project
It might be the most ambitious construction project in China since the Great Wall.

The Chinese government is planning to reroute the nation’s water supply, bringing water from the flood plains of the south and the snowcapped mountains of the west to the parched capital of Beijing. First envisioned by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s and now coming to fruition, the South-North Water Diversion — as it is inelegantly known in English — has a price tag of more than $62 billion, twice as expensive as the famous Three Gorges Dam. It is expected to take decades to complete.

“This is on a par with the Great Wall, a project essential for the survival of China,” said Wang Shushan, who heads the project in Henan province, where much of the construction is now taking place. “It is a must-do project. We can’t afford to wait.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 New York plans novel sewer improvement
New York City wants to catch and store rainwater temporarily in new roof systems to stop heavy storms sending sewage spilling into city waterways. 

The catchment systems would consist of “blue” roofs that have a series of drainage pools and “green” or grass- or ivy-covered roofs, under a plan unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg estimates the city could save $2.4 billion over 20 years if the state allows it to use this kind of green technology instead of relying on so-called grey infrastructure, such as storage tanks and tunnels.
–Reuters 

Day of reckoning coming for Colorado River
A once-unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

 Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.

 For the first time, federal estimates issued in August indicate that Lake Mead, the heart of the lower Colorado basin’s water system — irrigating lettuce, onions and wheat in reclaimed corners of the Sonoran Desert, and lawns and golf courses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — could drop below a crucial demarcation line of 1,075 feet.

 If it does, that will set in motion a temporary distribution plan approved in 2007 by the seven states with claims to the river and by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be reduced.
–The New York Times

MPCA seeks comments on Medicine Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Medicine Lake in the city of Plymouth. The MPCA has identified the lake as an impaired water body because it contains excess phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to algae overgrowth and disruption of swimming, fishing and other forms of recreation.  Comments on the report are being accepted through Nov. 3, 2010.

 The MPCA found that about half of phosphorus pollution in Medicine Lake comes from stormwater. Phosphorus levels in stormwater rise when leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers are allowed to wash into storm sewers. In developed areas such as the land surrounding Medicine Lake, water flowing off paved surfaces diverts phosphorus-containing organic material directly into streams and lakes.

 The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, quantifies pollutant levels, identifies sources of pollution and proposes ways to bring water quality back to an acceptable level. The draft Medicine Lake TMDL report may be viewed on the MPCA web site. For more information or to submit comments, contact Brooke Asleson at Brooke.Asleson@state.mn.us or 651-757-2205.  Written questions and comments can be sent to Asleson at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release

San Diego sues neighbor over groundwater
San Diego city officials are challenging plans by the neighboring Sweetwater Authority to tap more groundwater over fears the project will deplete and degrade an important regional aquifer.

 The city has sued the Chula Vista-based water agency in Superior Court over access to groundwater — an increasingly valuable resource amid declining imports from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The two sides have been in “active settlement negotiations” for several months, said Michelle Ouellette, a partner at Best Best & Krieger, Sweetwater’s law firm. The agency provides water to 186,000 customers in National City, Bonita and Chula Vista.

 Sweetwater declined to file a legal response to the city’s lawsuit and agreed to settlement talks, Ouellette said. She said the California Environmental Quality Act “requires both sides to make good-faith efforts to settle the case.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Gulf oil spill; drinking water standards

May 3, 2010

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

Gulf oil spill shows limits of technology
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is pushing current oil cleanup technology to its limits, but also serving as a testing ground for futuristic decontamination methods. 

Some cutting-edge imaging techniques that let responders size up slicks better, as well as novel engineering solutions such as a deep-water oil containment dome could see use in the Gulf of Mexico in coming days and weeks, experts say. 

But other long-touted measures, such as oil-eating microbes, however, are not yet ready to fight large spills. 

As the Deepwater Horizon cleanup effort is demonstrating, many of the current methods of cleaning up oil spills are decidedly low-tech. 

At least 70 response vehicles have fanned out in the Gulf and are using conventional physical containment methods such as floating tubes called booms and skimmers that slurp up mixed oil and water from the sea surface.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Fishing halted near oil slick
The government ordered a halt to fishing in areas affected by the ever-spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, a ban that covers waters from Louisiana to Florida and hinders the livelihoods of untold numbers of fishermen. 

Citing public safety concerns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the affected waters, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Pensacola Bay in Florida. Scientists were taking samples of water and seafood to ensure food safety. 

“We want to make sure that we can maintain the public confidence in the safety of the food supply and make sure that members of the public aren’t at risk,” said Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’ll continue to look at this and evaluate this.” 

Trawlers fishing for swordfish and tuna, and charter-boat operators, many of whom work out of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, are likely to feel the impact more than Louisiana fishermen, said Harlon Pearce, the chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.
–The New York Times

 Minnesota Health Dept. seeks input on drinking water standards
The Minnesota Department of Health, which provides health-based guidance on chemicals detected in Minnesota’s drinking water, is undertaking  two efforts to improve standards regulating contamination:

 n  MDH is seeking to amend the Health Risk Limit (HRL) rule for contaminants found in groundwater (Minnesota Rules, Part 4717.7860) used for drinking purposes. The amendments will expand the HRL rule by adding guidance in the form of new HRL values for 14 additional groundwater contaminants.

The department  will host a public meeting on May 19, 2010, to solicit public comments on the draft amendments

n  MDH has established the Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) program,  funded by the Clean Water Fund. CEC is a proactive program to protect drinking water by identifying contaminants of emerging concern that have the potential to occur in Minnesota drinking water sources, investigating the potential for human exposure to these contaminants, and developing guidance values, as applicable.  

Contact the Health Department to learn more about the effort and find opportunities to participate in it.
–Minnesota Health Department news release

 Rains ease long California drought
April’s battery of storms pushed snow levels well above normal but not enough to definitively end California’s three-year drought

The amount of water locked in the Sierra snowpack, California’s largest source of water, is 143 percent of normal and double last year’s levels for the same period, according to the state’s final snow survey of the season conducted Friday near Lake Tahoe. 

“All around, the figures look really, really good,” said Don Strickland, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.
–The San Francisco Chronicle 

Catostrophic water main break affects Boston
Nearly 2 million residents of Greater Boston lost their supply of clean drinking water when a huge pipe abruptly burst, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and to impose a sweeping order for homeowners and businesses to boil the untreated water now flowing from their taps.

 Governor Deval Patrick said residents in Boston and 29 other communities east of Weston should boil water for at least a minute before drinking it to avoid the risk of getting sick. He also asked bottled water companies and the National Guard to help make clean water available to residents in the affected communities.
–The Boston Globe

Benson ethanol plant to pay air quality penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co.  will pay a penalty consisting of $70,000 in cash and implement one or more Supplemental Environmental Projects costing at least $50,000 to resolve alleged violations of the company’s air quality permit at its ethanol production facility in Benson, Minn.

The violations, occurring in 2008 and 2009, centered on the company’s operation of a biomass gasification unit that went online in the spring of 2008.  The unit represented an advanced technology for the ethanol industry, in which wood products are heated to produce gas to fuel the facility’s boilers.

 There were significant problems with burning wood contaminated with lead and arsenic, most likely from wood that had been painted or treated with preservatives.  The company did not knowingly burn contaminated wood, but the MPCA alleged in the agreement that CVEC did not take proper precautions to ensure the wood supply was uncontaminated.  The company also failed to meet emission limits during stack performance tests for the waste heat boiler and a filter receiver, did not conduct required performance testing on other parts of its processes, and did not properly calculate and record total emissions as required during rolling 12-month periods.
–MPCA News Release 

L.A. County violates Clean Water Act
The County of Los Angeles violated the federal Clean Water Act when it discharged polluted water onto the world-famous Surfrider Beach at Malibu, according to a decision issued by the federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The court also found the county liable for illegally discharging polluted water into a marine coastal preserve in northern Los Angeles County, one of three dozen designated Areas of Special Biological Significance along the California coast. 

This lawsuit is the first to enforce California’s prohibition on polluted discharges to designated Areas of Special Biological Significance.
–Environment News Service

 

Fish disease, drug disposal and an ethanol fine

February 1, 2010

Every 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.

Deadly fish disease found in Lake Superior
A new virus that is deadly to muskies, walleyes and a wide range of fish species has been found for the first time in Lake Superior, raising fears it could spread to inland Minnesota waters.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which has been blamed for major fish kills in the Great Lakes and surrounding states, was found in four sites in Lake Superior, researchers with Cornell University announced.

Infected fish were found in the Wisconsin waters of St. Louis Bay and Superior Bay, which are part of the Twin Ports harbors of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis. It also was found in Paradise and Skanee bays in Michigan.

The virus poses no threat to humans but is known to infect 28 species of fish. Fish with the disease show widespread bleeding on the eyes, skin and fins and within internal organs. The virus has reached epidemic proportions in the Great Lakes and threatens New York’s sport-fishing industry, Cornell researchers said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Disposing of old medicines is tricky business
Researchers have long been finding residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products in our lakes and rivers. Some of them are endocrine disruptors and can cause fish to develop both male and female characteristics.

Traces of pharmaceuticals are even showing up in some cities’ drinking water supplies, though not in Minnesota. No one knows yet whether these drugs are having a significant impact on human health, but biologists are clearly worried.

The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth has been organizing special medicine collection events. One day in late January, a steady stream of drivers pull up at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Each driver handed over out-of-date pills, old cough medicine; drugs that someone stopped taking.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Environmental index ranks U.S. 61st in the world
A new ranking of the world’s nations by environmental performance puts some of the globe’s largest economies far down the list, with the United States sinking to 61st and China to 121st.

 In the previous version of the Environmental Performance Index, compiled every two years by Yale and Columbia University researchers, the United States ranked 39th, and China 105th. 

The top performer this year is Iceland, which gets virtually all of its power from renewable sources — hydropower and geothermal energy. It was joined in the top tier by a cluster of European countries known for their green efforts, including Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
–The New York Times

 Ethanol plant faces $891,000 bill for pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Corn Plus will pay a $200,000 civil penalty and complete a Supplemental Environmental Project costing no less than $691,000 for a variety of alleged water-quality violations at the company’s ethanol production facility in Winnebago.

Last year, Corn Plus paid a penalty totaling $150,000 to resolve a criminal water quality charge brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The violations, occurring from 2006 to 2008, were documented during MPCA staff inspections of the facility following complaints of odorous and discolored discharges to nearby surface waters, and after law enforcement personnel observed similar discharges.  Eventually it was found that the wastewater discharges from a cooling tower at the facility had been illegally connected to a stormwater system that discharged to Rice Lake via a county ditch. 

A significant portion of the violations alleged in the agreement relate to operating an unpermitted wastewater-disposal system; unpermitted discharge of wastewater that violated surface water-quality standards and caused nuisance conditions; failure to prevent the unpermitted discharges; and failure to report the unpermitted discharges and disposal system.
–MPCA News Release

 The ozone hole: Good news; bad news
That the hole in Earth’s ozone layer is slowly mending is considered a big victory for environmental policy makers. But in a new report, scientists say there is a downside: its repair may contribute to global warming.

 It turns out that the hole led to the formation of moist, brighter-than-usual clouds that shielded the Antarctic region from the warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions over the last two decades, scientists write in Geophysical Research Letters.

“The recovery of the hole will reverse that,” said Ken Carslaw, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the paper. “Essentially, it will accelerate warming in certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere.”
–The New York Times

 Less water vapor may slow global warming
A decade-long plateau in global warming appears to have occurred in large part because the stratosphere – the layer of atmosphere that few but airliners enter – got drier. 

That’s an explanation by a team of atmospheric scientists from the United States and Germany. They’ve studied trends in stratospheric water vapor over the past 30 years and calculated the effects of those trends on temperatures. 

A decline in stratospheric water vapor between 2000 and 2009 followed an apparent increase between 1980 and 2000, according to balloon and satellite measurements that the team used. The decline slowed the long-term growth in global average temperatures by some 25 percent, compared with the warming one could expect from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases alone, the team estimates. 

“There’s not a lot of water in the stratosphere. It’s extremely dry,” says Susan Solomon, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., who led the team. “But it packs a wallop” in terms of its climatic effects, she says.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Expert: Carp may not proliferate in Great Lakes
Do Asian carp really spell doom for the Great Lakes?

Many experts say the future looks grim, since the fish are voracious breeders and feeders that can multiply and scoop up all the plankton other fish need to survive. 

Anglers and boaters fear them because one species, silver carp, typically weighs more than a bowling ball and can come flying into boats, injuring humans. The fish have no predators in the animal world, and they appear to have accomplished that over generations by growing too big for predators to eat.

But others say the likely harm from Asian carp depends on how many get into the Great Lakes, and whether they’ll find the right conditions to survive and reproduce. Keeping those numbers low is the new mission.

“A few fish getting into Lake Michigan doesn’t mean there’s a population there,” said Duane Chapman, a leading Asian carp expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri. “This game is not over. It’s the numbers that invade the lakes that will ultimately determine whether they have a chance to get established.”
–The Detroit Free Press 

How do you put price tag on invasive species?
Invasive species – long the cause of environmental hand-wringing – have been raising more unwelcome questions recently, as the expense of eliminating them is weighed against the mounting liability of leaving them be.

Which is worse? Closing two locks on a critical waterway that is used to ship millions of dollars’ worth of goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin? Or allowing a voracious Asian carp to chow down on the native fish sustaining a Midwestern fishing industry that nets $7 billion a year?

And how do you put a price tag on the damage caused by the Burmese python and other constrictor snakes that are strangling the precious ecology of the Everglades? Questions like those became more urgent last week, when a team of scientists led by the University of Notre Dame disclosed that silver carp dominating stretches of the Mississippi River and its tributaries had infiltrated Lake Michigan.
–The Washington Post

Environmental groups to sue over Babbitt mine
A coalition of three environmental organizations has filed notice of intent to sue to stop ongoing water pollution at the former LTV Mine, now controlled by Cliffs Erie. The site is also the proposed location of PolyMet Mining’s planned NorthMet mine, currently the subject of environmental review.

The suit will also seek to halt ongoing pollution at the Dunka mine site, located near Babbitt. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network announced their intent to sue in a formal filing with the Federal District Court in Duluth. The 60-day notice letter is a prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act.

A Cliffs spokesperson had no comment on the court filing. 

While the pending lawsuit is unrelated to the ongoing environmental review of PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet mining operation, the attorney representing the groups suggests the two issues are related.
–The Timberjay 

Cleaner water = warmer world, Chicago argues
Chicago is the only major U.S. city that doesn’t disinfect its sewage, and the agency that treats its wastewater has a new reason for opposing the idea:
It’s bad for the environment.

Engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago recently completed an in-house study of its carbon footprint at the request of the elected board of commissioners. Going beyond the assignment, they also decided to look at how the footprint would change if it had to kill bacteria in sewage before pouring it into the Chicago River.

Starting to disinfect the wastewater — a change the 120-year-old agency has long opposed — would bolster the district’s greenhouse gas emissions and thereby cause more bad than good, they concluded.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Chicago plots its future water supply

Leaks, waste and road salt are endangering the Chicago area’s water supply. That’s according to regional planners, who approved a new strategy to avoid future shortages.

The water plan is the first of its kind. It spells out how northeastern Illinois can keep the spigot running in the face of a growing population, aging infrastructure and a warming climate. Some recommendations could hike the price of water, such as eliminating public subsidies so people have to weigh the true cost of what they use.
–Chicago Public Radio

Historical Society seeks Split Rock photos
Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed places in the United States. Since 1924, when the first road was built, the lighthouse has been a popular tourist destination with families, couples and friends recording their visit with a camera. 

In 2010, Split Rock Lighthouse will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As part of the celebration, the Minnesota Historical Society is launching a “Vintage Split Rock Lighthouse Pictures” Flickr group. The goal is to gather vacation photos from the early years of the North Shore landmark’s life. The Flickr group will allow visitors of the iconic Lighthouse to join the Society in telling the stories of Minnesota by submitting their photos. 

Visitors to Split Rock Lighthouse should add their pre-1980 pictures to the group at http://www.flickr.com/groups/vintagesplitrock via their own Flickr account. Visitors are encouraged to post vintage pictures of people at the lighthouse and include the story behind the picture, as well as the year the photograph was taken. 

The group is not intended as a photo contest, but photographs submitted before March 31, 2010, may be selected by the site manager for inclusion in an exhibit to be on display in the Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor Center this summer. People wanting to bring their photos to the Lighthouse to have them scanned should call  218-226-6372 to make arrangements.
–Minnesota Historical Society news release

Fairmont conference planned on ‘Third’ crops
The first of four Third Crop Producer Meetings – aimed at persuading Minnesota farmers to consider growing crops other than corn and soybeans — will be hosted by Rural Advantage in Farirmont on Monday, Feb. 8. A variety of speakers will be presenting on “Biomass Establishment” from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. 

For more information, contact Jill Sackett, University of Minnesota Extension educator and conservation agronomist, at the Rural Advantage office: 507-238-5449, or  sacke032@umn.edu

L.A. considers requiring rainwater capture
A proposed law would require new homes, larger developments and some redevelopments in Los Angeles to capture and reuse runoff generated in rainstorms.

The ordinance approved in January by the Department of Public Works would require such projects to capture, reuse or infiltrate 100% of runoff generated in a 3/4 -inch rainstorm or to pay a storm water pollution mitigation fee that would help fund off-site, low-impact public developments.

The fairly new approach to managing storm water and urban runoff is designed to mitigate the negative effects of urbanization by controlling runoff at its source with small, cost-effective natural systems instead of treatment facilities. Reducing runoff improves water quality and recharges groundwater.
–The Los Angeles Times 

State borrowing sought for Coon Rapids Dam
State bonding money is being sought to fund repairs that need to be made to the Coon Rapids Dam.

 A large hole has been discovered in the concrete apron below gate two at the dam and is causing washout conditions under it.

Three Rivers Park District operates the Coon Rapids Dam and also owns Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Hennepin County side of the river, while Anoka County operates Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Anoka County side of the Mississippi.

But the Three Rivers Park District Board, in addition to seeking state bonding dollars to make permanent repairs to the dam – installing a metal piling wall underwater across the width of the dam to prevent any future scour holes in the apron from threatening the integrity of the dam – is also concerned about the continued drain on the park district’s financial resources from the maintenance and repair needs of the dam, according to Cris Gears, Three Rivers Park District superintendent.
–The Coon Rapids Herald

Water use down; ethanol plants penalized

November 2, 2009

U.S. water use is declining, according to a new report. After a long delay, the EPA orders tests on suspected endocrine disruptors.  Two Minnesota ethanol plants will pay penalties for pollution. And states are paying little heed to predictions of rising sea levels. Scan a digest of these articles and more, then follow the links to read the articles where they originally were published. 

U.S. water use declines, USGS says
The United States is using less water than during the peak years of 1975 and 1980, according to water use estimates for 2005. Despite a 30 percent population increase during the past 25 years, overall water use has remained fairly stable according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle announced the report, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005, as part of her keynote speech today at the Atlantic Water Summit in the National Press Club.

The report shows that in 2005 Americans used 410 billion gallons per day, slightly less than in 2000. The declines are attributed to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants. Water withdrawals for public supply have increased steadily since 1950–when USGS began the series of five-year trend reports–along with the population that depends on these supplies.

“The importance of this type of data to the American public cannot be exaggerated,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “The Department of the Interior provides the nation with the best source of information about national and regional trends in water withdrawals. This information is invaluable in ensuring future water supplies and finding new technologies and efficiencies to conserve water.”

Nearly half (49 percent) of the 410 billion gallons per day used by Americans was for producing electricity at thermoelectric power plants. Irrigation accounted for 31 percent and public supply 11 percent of the total. The remaining 9 percent of the water was for self-supplied industrial, livestock, aquaculture, mining and rural domestic uses.
–U.S. Department of the Interior news release

 $475 million approved to restore Great Lakes
Congress approved President Barack Obama’s plan to spend $475 million next year on programs to restore the Great Lakes, the first installment in what is expected to be a multiyear restoration plan.

 Obama hatched a plan during the campaign to spend $5 billion on the lakes over the next 10 years, and the idea has won wide support with conservationists, industry and both political parties.

 “This is a great day for the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their jobs and way of life,” Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a statement.

 The new funding will essentially double the amount of federal dollars now flowing into the lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Chisago County power plant draws water worries
At first blush, a proposal for a large power plant in rural Chisago County would seem to have a lot going for it, including apparent need and general support from clean-energy interests.

 But that doesn’t mean LS Power’s natural gas-fired project is racing along. Far from it. Many county residents, skeptical of the company’s assertions and irked by what they consider a secretive approach, don’t like it one bit.

 “Whether they are for it or against it, people in this area have a right to know what this is about,” said Joyce Marienfeld, a member of an opposition group called Friends of the Sunrise River. “This has been real slippery — just not right.” 

County residents have been on edge since earlier this year when the East Coast power plant builder offered what residents viewed as a vague proposal to build a 780-megawatt power plant on a 40-acre site northwest of Lindstrom, 30 miles north of St. Paul. The plant, expected to cost $300 million to $500 million, would use low-polluting natural gas to supplement the state’s growing wind industry by operating when wind power isn’t available or during periods of peak demand. 

The Legislature quickly approved tax breaks similar to those given to other plants, provided local governments follow suit. If that happens, the project would be free to seek various air and water permits and Public Utilities Commission approval. 

Critics soon objected, especially over plans to use 2 million gallons of groundwater a day and to discharge that water into the nearby Sunrise River, which empties into the nationally protected St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 After long delay, EPA orders endocrine tests
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first test orders for pesticide chemicals to be screened for their potential effects on the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by human and animal endocrine systems, which regulate growth, metabolism and reproduction.

“After years of delay, EPA is aggressively moving forward by ordering the testing of a number of pesticide chemicals for hormone effects,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. “These new data will be carefully evaluated to help identify potential hormone disruptor chemicals.”

On Oct. 21, EPA made available the battery of scientific assays and test guidelines for conducting the assays, as well as a schedule for issuing test orders to manufacturers for 67 chemicals during the next four months.

Testing, conducted through the agency’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, will eventually expand to cover all pesticide chemicals.

For more information about the screening program, go to: http://www.epa.gov/endo
–EPA news release

Federal study of bisphenol A planned
The National Institutes of Health will devote $30 million to study the safety of bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-like chemical used in many plastics, including sippy cups and the linings of metal cans.

Almost half of that money comes from the economic stimulus bill, says Robin Mackar, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Although a growing number of scientists and consumers are concerned about BPA — which has been detected in the urine of more than 90% of Americans — government agencies have been divided about whether it poses a threat.

According to the NIEHS, animals studies link BPA with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancer and diabetes. New research will focus on low-dose exposures to BPA and effects on behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and various cancers. Researchers will also see if the effects of BPA exposure can be passed from parents to their children.
–USA Today

States disregard threat of rising sea levels
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida’s coast.

How have local and state governments responded? Build, baby, build.

A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.

 Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida’s lead — though to lesser degrees — eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
–The Miami Herald

Ethanol plant gets $150,000 penalty for water pollution
An ethanol producer in south-central Minnesota has been nicked for $150,000 for discharging polluted wastewater into a lake, violating the federal Clean Water Act.

In sentencing in federal court in St. Paul, Corn Plus of Winnebago, Minn., was fined $100,000 and ordered to make a $50,000 community service payment to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to benefit the Rice Creek Watershed. 

Judge Jeanne Graham also required Corn Plus to implement an environmental compliance plan and a code of conduct as well as retain a full-time environmental health and safety manager.
–The Star Tribune

Second ethanol plant agrees to air and water penalties
Bushmills Ethanol Inc. will pay a civil penalty totaling $425,000 for a variety of alleged violations at the company’s ethanol production facility in Atwater.  A portion of the penalty includes supplementary environmental projects, valued at $175,000, which will be completed by the company during the next four years.

 The violations, which occurred from 2006 to 2009, were discovered during Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff inspections of the facility and through review of operational records the company is required to submit to the MPCA under its environmental permits.

 Numerous violations were identified, including producing ethanol above the facility’s permitted limit, failure to inspect and maintain production and pollution-control equipment, recordkeeping and reporting violations, and exceeding permitted wastewater discharge limits.

 The company agreed to the penalty in mid-October.
–MPCA news release

 Judge blocks Las Vegas water pipeline
A Nevada judge’s sternly worded ruling blasting a water giveaway as “arbitrary” with “oppressive” consequences has tossed a huge roadblock in the way of a controversial pipeline opposed by Utah ranchers and farmers.

The ruling by Judge Norman Robinson of Nevada’s 7th Judicial District reverses water right applications granted by the state engineer to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for Cave, Delamar and Dry Lake valleys. 

Those valleys are in the same geographical region as Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah and Nevada border and are integral to the water authority’s plan to build a $3.5 billion, 285-mile pipeline to convey water to Las Vegas. 

The judge said the state engineer’s decision to grant those water rights “results in an oppressive consequence for the basins affected, with the state engineer simply hoping for the best … ,” adding that the engineer “abused his discretion” because there was no evidence cited over the availability of water for future use.
-The Deseret News

 Impact statement issued for copper-nickel mine
A proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine and processing plant on Minnesota’s Iron Range would increase sulfate levels in several northeastern rivers, a long-awaited environmental review concluded.

More than four years in the making, the draft environmental impact statement provides an overview of Polymet Mining’s proposed NorthMet mine and processing project, analyzes its possible effects and outlines how it would operate under federal and state rules.

 Polymet wants to operate the state’s first copper mine, but environmental groups have pushed back, noting widespread pollution at such mines elsewhere in the world. The company, however, contends safeguards built into the sulfide mining process would minimize or eliminate those problems.

 Company officials, backed by northern legislators, have long touted the $600 million project’s benefits to the economically depressed region, saying it would create about 400 jobs over 20 years. It also could lead the way for other such projects in the region.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Solar power has a powerful thirst
The West’s water wars are likely to intensify with Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement on Monday that it would buy 500 megawatts of electricity from two solar power plant projects to be built in the California desert.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project would consume an estimated 536 million gallons of water a year, while the Mojave Solar Project would pump 705 million gallons annually for power-plant cooling, according to applications filed with the California Energy Commission.

 With 35 big solar farm projects undergoing licensing or planned for arid regions of California alone, water is emerging as a contentious issue. 

The Genesis and Mojave projects will use solar trough technology that deploys long rows of parabolic mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. The steam must be condensed back into water and cooled for re-use.
–The New York Times

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