Posts Tagged ‘farm bill’

Nutrient pollution; conservation; road salt

December 19, 2012

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

EPA videos take on nutrient pollution
Nutrient pollution is one of the nation’s most widespread and costly environmental problems. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from farm and lawn fertilizer, pet and livestock waste, roads and houses, faulty septic systems, and treated sewage can turn waters green with slime and pollute waters for swimming, boating, and fishing. To help raise awareness about this growing environmental problem, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a short video to illustrate the potential impacts of nutrient pollution on recreation. The Choice is Yours: Clean or Green Water can be viewed on EPA’s YouTube Channel. The new video complements another EPA YouTube video that provides a broad overview of nutrient pollution.
–EPA News Release

Merriam advocates conservation in Farm Bill
Read a recent Freshwater Society newsletter column by Gene Merriam on conservation in the Farm Bill. He urges Congress to adopt a Senate position that would make compliance with some conservation standards a requirement for farmers seeking subsidized crop insurance coverage.

Use salt sparingly to protect water
Excessive use of road salt – on streets, bridges, parking lots and sidewalks – is s significant cause of pollution of both ground and surface waters. And how cold is too cold for the salt to be effective?

Read a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release with tips for safe and effective use of road salt. Here’s a hint: The MPCA says use less than 4 pounds of salt to clear 1,000 square feet of pavement. That’s the equivalent of a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug of salt for an area that equals about seven average-sized parking spaces.

1,500 injection wells put toxins into the ground
Read an investigative report on federally approved injection wells that allow industries to pour waste products into the ground, sometimes contaminating drinking water aquifers. The report is the work of Pro Publica, a public interest journalism project.

Chesapeake Bay credit plan examined
Read an interesting article from the Southeast Farm Press on tradeoffs in pollution credit trading as it applies to agriculture.

Chicago River: A superhighway for invasives
Standing on the banks of the Chicago River, you realize that maybe the best thing about this filthy waterway is that it was reversed over a century ago so it flows away from Lake Michigan instead of into it.

Water isn’t even the first thing you notice where the river merges with a notoriously fouled little tributary, dubbed Bubbly Creek for the gases still belching from untold tons of cow carcasses dumped into it by the city’s old stockyards.

Floating on the surface is the crinkly corpse of a pink Mylar balloon that’s wrapped itself around a 40-ounce beer bottle. Nearby is a pumpkin stuck in the muck, orbited by an array of tampon applicators and plastic bottle caps. Just below a sewer pipe that excretes a septic stew when big rains hit, a boot floats sole-up next to a tennis shoe; if the pair were a match you’d fret they were attached to feet.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

UW research targets invasive smelt
University of Wisconsin scientists are studying how mixing the water in a lake could eliminate an invasive fish.

The technology works by moving large air bladders up and down the depth of a lake, mixing the water and raising its temperature to where it is intolerable for the fish, said Jake Vander Zanden, supervisor of the study.

The bladders are much like gigantic trampolines, Vander Zanden said. They’re about 25 feet across. Air is pumped in and out so it rises and falls.

The project is designed to eliminate invasive rainbow smelt from the small Crystal Lake in Vilas County, Wis. If successful, it may be applied to other lakes where smelt have invaded and decimated native populations of yellow perch, lake whitefish, northern cisco and commercially important walleye
–Great Lakes Echo

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Free-market think tank backs conservation compliance

October 31, 2012

Read a free-market think tank’s argument for requiring conservation compliance in any expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance.

Enacting a conservation compliance provision in the now-stalled federal Farm Bill would require farmers receiving crop insurance to follow certain minimum conservation standards aimed at protecting wetlands and reduce erosion.

Those compliance provisions were required for farmers receiving direct-payment subsidies under the farm bill that expired Sept. 30, but they were not a requirement for participation in crop insurance.

Direct payments are virtually certain to be eliminated, probably in favor of an expansion of crop insurance, in the new Farm Bill that Congress is expected to enact later this year or in 2013.

The version of a new Farm Bill passed by the U.S. Senate in June included a conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance eligibility. The version approved by a House committee in July did not.

The R Street Institute, a Washington-based non-profit think tank that says it espouses free markets, limited government and responsible environmental stewardship, last month issued a policy statement supporting a conservation compliance requirement.

The policy statement argues that all farm subsidies should be eliminated, but says that is not politically realistic and that enactment of a conservation compliance provision is a “second best” outcome.

Read a 2011 newsletter column by Gene Merriam, Freshwater Society president,  supporting conservation compliance. View video from a 2011 Freshwater lecture in which Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working group advocated conservation compliance.  Read an October Des Moines Register interview with U. S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in which Vilsack predicted Congress will not pass a conservation compliance provision.

Celebrate, take note of Clean Water Act

October 9, 2012

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

Celebrate 40 years of — gradually — cleaner water
The federal Clean Water Act, actually a package of amendments to existing water law, was enacted 40 years ago this month. View a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency video featuring former Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar.  In late 1971 while on the staff of his Congressional predecessor, John Blatnik, Oberstar was Administrator to the House Committee on Public Works. As the lead staff representative on that committee, Oberstar played a key role in writing what is today considered landmark legislation. View video of a June  2012 Freshwater Society lecture on the Clean Water Act – past, present and future – by G. Tracy Mehan III, a former top water-quality executive in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Girl Scouts work for water on Oct. 13
On Oct. 13, thousands of Girl Scouts in 49 counties in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin will celebrate the Girl Scouts’ centennial with a service project aimed at protecting lakes and rivers.

Some 36,000 girls, assisted by 18,000 adults, will clean up leaves, grass clipping and other debris from streets and storm sewer grates in their neighborhoods.

The project – the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service – is a Community Clean-Up for Water Quality. It is sponsored by 3M and was planned and organized by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys in partnership with the Freshwater Society and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley.

The goal is to prevent excess algae growth in lakes and river by eliminating the phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that result from the breakdown of organic matter and flow – untreated — through storm sewers to surface waters.

Learn more about the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service. Learn more about Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality and how you can organize one.

Spend an evening with others who care about water
Learn how you can protect the waters around you Do you care deeply about the water quality in a lake or stream near where you live? Are you wondering what you, as an individual or as a member of a lake association or community group, can do to slow or stop the advance of invasive species?

This event – the sixth annual Watershed Association Initiative – is for you.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed Association will sponsor a dinner, speakers and networking opportunities for residents of the watershed district and any other people interested in protecting and restoring metropolitan lakes and streams.

The summit will be from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 233 of the Eisenhower Community Center, 1001 Highway 7 in Hopkins. Alex Gehrig of the Freshwater Society is organizing the event. There is a $10 charge for admission and dinner. Learn more about the event and register to attend. View the agenda.

DNR seeks people to work on aquatic invasives
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking applications from stakeholders who are interested in serving on a statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee.

People who are concerned about aquatic invasive species and have the ability to commit to reviewing reports, preparing comments, and participating in six to eight meetings a year are encouraged to apply. Applications are due by Oct. 19.

The DNR AIS Advisory Committee will be comprised of 15 stakeholders appointed by the commissioner. The first set of appointees will be asked to serve either two- or three-year terms in order to stagger appointments. Eventually, committee members will serve three-year terms.

The DNR commissioner determines all appointments. Appointees may request mileage reimbursement, but they are not paid a salary and are not eligible for per diem payments. They must abide by requirements pertaining to potential conflicts of interest.

Advisory committee work can be a significant time commitment. Applicants should be prepared to make a two- to three-year commitment.

Applications will be accepted online. Data provided for the oversight committee application is classified as public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. For more information, contact Ann Pierce at 651-259-5119 or ann.pierce@state.mn.us, or Jim Japs, 651-259-5656 or jim.japs@state.mn.us.
–DNR News Release

Two Otto Doering talks on video
If you missed Otto Doering’s Oct. 4 Freshwater Society lecture on the environmental and human health problems caused by excess human-made nitrogen, you can still see and hear his lecture on video.

You can also view video of a primer on the U.S. Farm Bill – from the 1930s to the present – that Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist, delivered in a seminar sponsored by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

More sustainable water use in India
Read a good New York Times op-ed column by Cheryl Colopy on India’s water problems and efforts by some Indians to return to more sustainable farming practices in which monsoon rains are captured in small ponds to recharge groundwater. Colopy is the author of Dirty, Sacred Rivers: Confronting South Asia’s Water Crisis.

Analysis: 23 million acres converted to cropland

August 7, 2012

High crop prices and crop insurance subsidies contributed to the conversion of more than 23 million acres of grass, wetlands and other animal habitat into fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and other crops between 2008 and 2011. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Environmental Working Group and the Defenders of Wildlife.

Read the report, titled “Plowed Under.” It is based on a comparison of satellite images collected by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read a Star Tribune article about the report.

“Plowed Under” says that more than 8.4 million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetlands were converted to plant corn, more than 5.6 million to raise soybeans and nearly 5.2 million to grow winter wheat. The conversion totaled 1.34 million acres in Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune.

In 2007, a General Accounting Office report, titled “Farm Programs Are an Important Factor in Landowners’ Decisions to Convert Grassland to Cropland,” reached some of the same conclusions about the incentives that farm subsidies and crop insurance gave farmers and ranchers to plow up grassland.

Conservation takes hit in House ag bill

July 16, 2012

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

House Farm Bill lacks conservation teeth
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed a new 10-year, $969 billion federal Farm Bill that makes deeper overall spending cuts and does less to encourage soil and water conservation than the Senate version of the legislation.

(An earlier version of this blog posting had two incorrect headlines. It is the House bill, not the Senate legislation, that is the weaker of the two versions on conservation.)

It now appears very likely the Senate and House will not agree on a compromise bill before the November election. Scores of farm programs currently are scheduled to expire after Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. But the Senate and House almost certainly will approve a stopgap extension of those programs.

Unlike the Senate bill passed last month, the House version would not require farmers to protect wetlands and maintain soil erosion plans on marginal land as a condition of qualifying for crop insurance. The House bill also cuts $3 billion – $1 billion more than the Senate legislation — in federal payments to farmers and ranchers through the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Read a  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition analysis focusing on conservation provisions in the bill. Read New York Times and Politico articles on the House committee action.  Read a 2011 column by Freshwater President Gene Merriam advocating for the conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance.

From the USGS' Water Science for SchoolsPlay a game, stretch your mind 
If you haven’t already looked at it, check out the expanded Freshwater web page for kids. It’s got games for kids and basic information about water that most adults can learn from, as well. Sources include the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Parents, teachers, home-schoolers will find the page useful.

Pelican Lake zebra mussel infestation confirmed
Scuba divers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have found zebra mussels in Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County near Brainerd. They were found in two separate locations during a search of the lake on July 9.

The search was a follow-up to an intensive search last November after a single juvenile zebra mussel was found on a dock. The November search of the lake failed to turn up any additional mussels. DNR staff also asked the Pelican Lake Association to notify its members to report any suspect mussels, but no other zebra mussels were found in 2011.
–DNR News Release

Wisconsin court rejects local water rules 
The Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt a blow to environmentalists concerned about water pollution from huge livestock farms, when it said communities couldn’t set stricter standards than the state.

The ruling was believed to be the first decision by a state Supreme Court in about a half-dozen cases pitting neighbors and small farmers throughout the Midwest against so-called factory farms, which can have hundreds or even thousands of animals. Similar cases have been filed in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma, and the decision was closely watched.
 –The Associated Press

Duke research has implications for fracking
A study that found hydraulic fracturing for natural gas puts drinking-water supplies in Pennsylvania at risk of contamination may renew a long-running debate between industry and activists.

The report by researchers at Duke University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said a chemical analysis of 426 shallow groundwater samples found matches with brine found in rock more than one mile (1.2 kilometers) deep, suggesting paths that would let gas or water flow up after drilling.

While the flows weren’t linked to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the study found natural routes for seepage into wells or streams.

“The industry has always claimed that this is a separation zone, and there is no way fluids could flow” from the shale to the aquifers, Avner Vengosh, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and one of the study’s eight authors, said in an interview. “We see evidence of hydrologic connectivity.”
–Bloomberg News

Heat causing Minnesota fish kills
Record-setting heat may be contributing to fish kills in lakes across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Natural summer fish kills are not unusual,” according to Brian Schultz, DNR assistant regional fisheries manager. “In the past several days, however, we’re getting increased reports of dead and dying fish in many lakes from around the state.”

Unusually warm weather has raised water temperatures of many shallow lakes. Schultz has received reports from DNR field staff of surface water temperatures in some lakes reaching 90 degrees, with temps at the bottom only a few degrees cooler where maximum depths are less than 10 feet.
–DNR News Release

DNR completes wolf hunt rules 
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource has finalized rules for Minnesota’s first regulated wolf hunting and trapping season this fall and winter.

There are several changes to what the DNR originally proposed in May as a result of input received since the proposal was announced.

“We changed the closing date for the late season from Jan. 6, 2013, to Jan. 31,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. “We also tightened the wolf harvest registration requirement so we can more quickly close a zone based on harvest results.”

Another notable change is that the wolf range will be divided into three zones for the purposes of harvest targets, registration and season closure. The northeast zone and the east-central zone closely parallel the 1854 and 1837 treaty ceded territory boundaries. These zones will allow the state to allocate and manage wolf harvest in consultation with Indian bands that have court-affirmed off-reservation hunting rights. The northwest zone will be the other area open to wolf hunting. Only that portion of Minnesota where rifles are legal for deer hunting will be open for taking wolves.
–DNR News Release

Nitrate tests at Benton County Fair
Area residents who rely on their own wells for drinking water can have their water tested for nitrate contamination for free during two days of the Benton County Fair in Sauk Rapids.

The Benton Soil & Water Conservation District and Minnesota Department of Agriculture are conducting the nitrate clinic from 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2.

The clinic will be at the SWCD’s fair booth in the Education Building. Nitrate is a common contaminant, particularly in shallow wells, dug wells and wells with damaged or leaking casings. Nitrates can come from fertilizers, animal waste and human sewage.
–The St. Cloud Times

The Farm Bill, conservation and crop insurance

July 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservation wins one in Senate’s Farm Bill

June 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott County’s Credit River off ‘impaired’ list

April 30, 2012

Scott County’s Credit River gets cleaner 
John Hensel, who oversees all of the metro area’s watersheds for the state of Minnesota, had brought a camera along to remember this by. On the riverbank he peered down into the flashing current and said, “It looks spring-fed!”

Apparently it didn’t look quite that clear a few years ago.

The Credit River in Scott County for years has been listed as one of Minnesota’s thousands of polluted bodies of water. But now, it is one of a handful to be removed from that list — to be credited, so to speak, as unimpaired.

There are more theories than absolute surefire answers as to why it’s in so much better shape, experts say. But what is known for sure is that people all along its length — often just stray citizens — worked in a host of ways to counteract what could have been causing the problem.
–The Star Tribune

Conservation groups praise Farm Bill votes
Conservation groups across the country are applauding the Senate Agriculture Committee for its decision to maintain a strong conservation component in the 2012 farm bill.

The bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support, but the timing for a full vote on the Senate floor is uncertain.

Besides the Conservation Reserve Program, the farm bill includes a conservation easement program with a strong wetland component, a regional partnership program aimed at improving water quality and a Sodsaver provision.

Sodsaver aims to protect native grasslands by reducing federal support on any new cropland acres put into production as a result of breaking grassland with no previous cropping history.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Research looks at organic ag’s potential
Can organic agriculture feed the world?   Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet – yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often-heated debate over organic versus conventional farming.

Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
–University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment News Release

Climate change moving Corn Belt north 
Researchers have found that climate change is likely to have far greater influence on the volatility of corn prices over the next three decades than factors that recently have been blamed for price swings — like oil prices, trade policies and government biofuel mandates.

The new study, published  in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that unless farmers develop more heat-tolerant corn varieties or gradually move corn production from the United States into Canada, frequent heat waves will cause sharp price spikes.

Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford and an author of the study, said he was surprised by the notable effect of climate change on price volatility for corn, the country’s largest crop. “I really thought climate would be a minor player before we did this analysis,” Professor Diffenbaugh said.
–The New York Times

MPCA approves BWCA haze rules 
The Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved a plan to reduce haze in Voyaguers National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The plan is required by the federal government, which wants states to clean up the air in the nation’s biggest natural areas. The haze in Minnesota’s northern wilderness areas is the result of a complex and ever-changing mix of pollutants. But the MPCA is focusing on taconite plants and coal-fired power plants which have — up to now — escaped other pollution regulations.

In March, the MPCA staff presented a plan to the citizens’ board that would reduce emissions. Cliffs Natural Resources said it would have trouble meeting the standards assigned to its plants in Hibbing and Eveleth. The citizens’ board told its staff to negotiate with the company. The result is a new plan, which gives the company more flexibility and less stringent standards.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Asian carp forum set in Stillwater 
With news coming out that another invasive Bighead carp was caught near Prescott in the St. Croix River, a public forum to discuss the issue will be held May 16 in Stillwater.

The St. Croix River Association is sponsoring a public forum from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 at the Water Street Inn for river users to learn more about the carp, what the invasive fish could mean for the St. Croix and what can be done to control their spread.
–Stillwater Patch

USGS: Look to cancer model to fight invasives 
Lessons learned from the medical community’s progress in fighting cancer can provide a framework to help prevent the introduction and spread of  harmful aquatic invasive species, according to a study released in American Scientist.

With more than 6,500 harmful non-native species causing more than 100 billion dollars in economic damage each year in the United States, more effective methods of confronting them are essential.

In the study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center outline five integrated steps used in cancer prevention and treatment that could be adapted to use in battling invasive species: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment options and rehabilitation.
–USGS News Release

EPA faces decision on 2,4-D-resistant corn
To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind.

He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away. Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.

That would be a welcome development for corn farmers like Brooks Hurst of Tarkio, Mo., who are coping with runaway weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup, the herbicide of choice for the last decade. But some consumer and environmental groups oppose approval of Dow’s corn, saying it will lead to a huge increase in the use of 2,4-D, which they say may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems.
 –The New York Times

USDA planning water-quality credit trades 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) is developing a nationwide network of water quality trading (WQT) programs, slated to become operational in September.

It will consist primarily of projects that earn a share of up to $10 million in targeted Conservation Innovation Grants that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will award that same month.

Roughly 25 programs are currently under review, and grant recipients will be announced in July.
–Ecosystem Marketplace

Twin Cities air gets worse
For the first time in nearly two decades, air in the Twin Cities is dirty enough that it might violate federal health standards, the American Lung Association said in an analysis.

That could lead to more health problems for Twin Cities residents and more hospitalizations for heart attacks, asthma and other lung disorders that can be triggered by the higher amounts of microscopic particles such as soot from leaf blowers, generators, diesel trucks, auto shops, light industry and, most of all, cars.

Ramsey County, one of seven counties tracked for particulate matter, got an F for the first time since the Lung Association began compiling the annual report. Air monitors there measured dangerously high levels of particulate matter 10 times between 2008 and 2010. Hennepin and other metro counties fared about the same as last year, but those counties also experienced several days with high levels of particulate matter in the air.

State pollution officials said that air quality in the Twin Cities metro has been declining for some time and that this summer it could routinely reach levels considered unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
–The Star Tribune

Anoka County well testing set May 7-11 
The thirteenth annual Well Water Wise (3W) week promotion will be held on May 7-11 to encourage residents to check the safety of their private (home or cabin) well.

The Anoka County Community Health and Environmental Services Department, in cooperation with 13 municipalities, sponsors the 3W program to provide testing services to residents throughout the year. County residents may pick up a well water test kit at participating city and township offices or in the county’s Environmental Services office, Suite 360, of the Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue in Anoka.

The well water testing kit includes water collection and submission instructions. Water samples can be submitted to the county’s Environmental Services office of analysis every Monday from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon.

A laboratory fee of $30.00 will be charged for bacteria and nitrate-nitrogen analysis.

During Well Water Wise Week 2012: the Environmental Services office will accept samples Monday, May 7 to Thursday, May 10 from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. On Friday, May 11 samples will be accepted from 8 a.m. to noon.

Washington County nitrate tests set
Washington County, in partnership with the Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, will offer a free nitrate water-testing clinic 4-7 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at Scandia City Hall.

Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater. Experts recommend that private well owners who get their drinking water from wells should test their water regularly.

To participate in the testing, collect at least one-half cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Run the water for 5-10 minutes before filling the container. Do this within 24 hours of the clinic and keep it refrigerated. Homeowners with water treatment equipment (other than a softener) should take two water samples – one before and one after the treatment process. This will determine if the system is working.

Label the container with name, phone number, if the sample is before or after a treatment system, and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled. Samples will be analyzed on the spot – the process usually takes less than five minutes – and results will be given directly to the homeowner. For questions about the clinic or how to take a water sample, contact Wendy Griffin at 651-275-1136, Ext. 24.
–Forest Lake Times

Impaired waters; tracking CO2

January 16, 2012

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

List of impaired Minnesota waters grows
Minnesota is adding another 500 lakes and stretches of river to its list of impaired waters.

This new list brings the total number of impaired rivers and lakes to more than 3,600. Impaired means the waters have excess nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury, bacteria or other pollutant to support activities like swimming or fishing, or even to provide healthy habitats for fish and wildlife.

Listing these lakes and rivers is the first step in attempts to fix them. But some critics say the state isn’t doing what it takes to clean up the pollution.

Once they’re on the list, the state works with local governments and citizen groups to design clean-up plans. So far, researchers have found that about 40 percent of Minnesota’s waters are impaired. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to update their list of impaired waters every two years. Minnesota is one-fifth of the way through surveying its nearly 12,000 lakes and nearly 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.

In the nearly twenty years these efforts have been under way, about 900 clean-up plans have been approved or are being developed. But only 15 water bodies have been removed from the list because of actual clean-up.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Data base shows greenhouse gas sources
 The EPA has posted a new searchable data base of greenhouse gas emissions last year. Go to it and explore the power plants and other sources of Minnesota’s 47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide-  equivalent emissions. Read a New York Times article about the new trove of pollution data.

Research: Cut soot, methane to slow warming
 Simple, inexpensive measures to cut emissions of two common pollutants will slow global warming, save millions of lives and boost crop production around the world, an international team of scientists reported.

The climate-change debate has centered on carbon dioxide, a gas that wafts in the atmosphere for decades, trapping heat. But in recent years, scientists have pointed to two other, shorter-term pollutants — methane and soot, also known as black carbon — that drive climate change.

Slashing emissions of these twin threats would be a “win-win-win” for climate, human health and agriculture, said NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell, who led the study appearing in the journal Science.  “Even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, these things are worth doing.”

Previous studies have noted the benefits of reducing methane and soot. But the new study looked at the specific effect of about 400 actions policymakers could take. Of those, just 14 interventions — such as eliminating wood-burning stoves, dampening emissions from diesel vehicles and capturing methane released from coal mines — would offer big benefits.
 –The Washington Post

Investors push water sustainability 
Jonas Kron is worried about water. The investment adviser at Trillium Asset Management, a $900 million fund manager that focuses on environmentally sustainable investment, fears the world’s dwindling supply of fresh water is hurting the companies he has invested in. For most of the year, Kron has led a shareholder challenge to J. M. Smucker, the strawberry jam maker that also owns Folgers coffee. Kron says the company hasn’t demonstrated it’s prepared for the market changes that are sure to come as climate change reduces the size of the world’s coffee growing area.

The conversation has been difficult in part because corporate leaders still seem unaware they need to factor water risk into their financial projections, says Kron. “We’re not talking about charity here,” says Kron. “These are investors seeking to have the company address the risks in its supply chain.”

Smucker’s says it’s hedging against potential increases in raw material prices, but Mother Nature, Kron points out, can defeat any hedge. “At a certain point, you need to deal with the fundamental, underlying fact that these are crops grown with soil, sunlight, and water, and you can’t escape the laws of nature.”

Most companies act as if the water they have today will be there tomorrow, says Brooke Barton, who runs water programs at Ceres, an environmental group in Boston that worked with Trillium and others to create an online checklist aimed at helping investors and companies assess efforts to manage water risk.
–Bloomberg

3M counter-sues Met Council over pollution 
The 3M Co. has a new tactic to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council: If we polluted, so did you.

In a counterclaim, the company said that if it is found liable for polluting the Mississippi River, the Met Council also should pay. That’s because, 3M says, the planning agency for the seven-county Twin Cities area dumps chemicals into the river from its seven waste treatment plants.

The court document is a new twist in the legal battle over PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate, found in the river. The state sued 3M in December 2010, saying its chemicals had damaged the environment. The Met Council joined the suit 11 months later. But 3M now argues that the chemicals are coming from treated sewage and other sources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Cellulosic biofuels go missing 
When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.

But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.

In 2012, the oil companies expect to pay even higher penalties for failing to blend in the fuel, which is made from wood chips or the inedible parts of plants like corncobs. Refiners were required to blend 6.6 million gallons into gasoline and diesel in 2011 and face a quota of 8.65 million gallons this year.

“It belies logic,” Charles T. Drevna, the president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, said of the 2011 quota. And raising the quota for 2012 when there is no production makes even less sense, he said.

Penalizing the fuel suppliers demonstrates what happens when the federal government really, really wants something that technology is not ready to provide.
–The New York Times

Climate change, elk reduce tree cover 
Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”
–USGS News Release

Farm Bureau call to end direct subsidies
The American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Honolulu has voted to adopt an Iowa proposal that would recommend the end of direct payments to farmers as part of the new farm bill to be written this year.

The Iowa Farm Bureau’s county delegates shook the agricultural world in August 2010 when they voted to recommend the end of direct payments, which in 2010 put $495 million into the hands of Iowa farmers. The 2011 American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Atlanta declined to follow the Iowa resolution, largely because of resistance from Southern delegates. But during the year, it became increasingly evident that direct payments, which have long been a target of opponents of farm subsidies, were vulnerable as Congress looks for ways to reduce the federal budget deficit.

“This week our national delegation of farmers agreed: The time is right to take a stand,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill of Milo.
–The Des Moines Register

Washington works to clean Potomac 
Washington is starting to dig deep in a $2.6 billion underground solution aimed at helping clean up the polluted Potomac River and the ailing Chesapeake Bay, the biggest U.S. estuary.

In the U.S. capital’s biggest public works project in more than 40 years, work started this fall to cut about 16 miles (26 kilometres) of tunnels to keep overflow sewage and stormwater from running into the Potomac. The project, designed to be finished in 2025, is seen by environmentalists as part of resolving the next great water pollution challenge facing the United States — keeping fouled runoff out of lakes, streams and rivers.

The vast dig “is a dramatic piece of the puzzle to improve the water quality in the Potomac,” said Carlton Ray, head of the District of Columbia’s Clean Water Project.
–Reuters

Permits required for lake service providers 
Training and permitting requirements for people who install and remove docks and other water recreation equipment will be implemented by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this summer.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a number of new laws in 2011 related to prevention and management of aquatic invasive species. The laws apply to not only boaters and property owners, but also lake service providers and others involved with transportation of water-related equipment.

Service providers are individuals or businesses hired to install or remove water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts or structures from waters of the state. They are now required by state statute to obtain a permit from the DNR before providing any services. The DNR will begin to implement and enforce this during the 2012 open water season. All service providers must complete invasive species training and pass an examination in order to qualify for a permit.
–DNR News Release

Legacy, ladybugs and Lutsen

October 31, 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.

Questions dog Legacy expenditures
Over the next 23 years, Minnesota will spend an estimated $2 billion in Legacy funds to make its lakes and rivers cleaner.

But who’s to say whether that money will be well spent? That those waters will be in appreciably better shape than they are now? That the money won’t go down some big hole or lots of little ones?

As the state begins handling constitutionally dedicated money approved by voters in 2008, questions are being raised about the clean-water portion of that amendment. Some activists worry much of that money, especially that dealing with pollution from agriculture, could be wasted or could go to less effective uses.

“There are a lot of things to be concerned about, and I worry a lot,” said Gene Merriam, head of the Freshwater Society and a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and state senator. “This is a lot of money. I’m concerned that little or nothing comes of it.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Nine-spotted ladybug

More good news on rare species
Two weeks ago, this blog took some delight in the recent spotting of a baby Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota’s Martin County. Scientists had feared the threatened species was not reproducing at the study site.

Now comes some good news about another species: The rare nine-spotted ladybug.

The Coccinella novemnotata is the state insect of New York but has long been thought to be extinct in the state. A live ladybug was found on Long Island in July.

It turns out that disappearing ladybugs are a problem throughout the U.S., and there is a Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University that encourages citizen scientists to look for, photograph and report rare ladybugs.

The Associated Press reports that the leading theory about the decline of native ladybugs is that they were somehow displaced by the seven-spotted ladybug, which was introduced from Europe and released as natural pest control to eat aphids on crops. Seven-spotted ladybugs are now common, as are Asian multicolored ladybugs, which were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s and ’80s to control scale insects on trees.

The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States. But by 1999, extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000. to enlist children and adults as citizen scientists to survey the ladybug population.

China invest billions in desalination race
TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.

There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.

“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”

In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.

As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
–The New York Times

Public comment sought on Lutsen snowmaking
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on a proposal for a temporary permit that would allow Lutsen Mountain Corporation to continue to draw water from the Poplar River for its snowmaking operation.

Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.

The 2011 Legislature authorized the resort owner to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive days. The flow in the river has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate provision of Minnesota statutes, however, authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed if there is “just cause.”

In this case, the DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on the potential economic impacts to the local community, the low numbers of trout present in the affected reach of river, and the likelihood that some trout mortality will occur, whether the resort temporarily appropriates water or not.

“The most important aspect of this issue is that the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC,” explained DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We need concurrence from LMC and key legislators that they are committed to finding an alternate source of water for snowmaking – probably Lake Superior – within three years to prevent a reoccurrence of this very difficult situation.”

The draft permit and a FAQ with additional background information is available online.

The public may submit comments through Nov. 4 at publiccomment.dnr@state.mn.us.
–DNR News Release

Research shows stream buffers’ value
A new take on a fairly common conservation practice can do a lot more than previously thought to control nutrient runoff in crop fields, according to new research in Iowa.

A project testing the viability of riparian buffer strips to remove nutrients from crop runoff water was conducted this growing season by the Ames, Iowa-based Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main target for the research was a 1,000-foot stretch of Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, where a “saturated buffer” was installed to catch tile-line water before it’s released into waterways.

The system uses “a shallow lateral line” that “has control structures that raise the water table and slow outflow, allowing the buffers to naturally remove nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous.””

The results: In addition to curbing over half of the immediate tile line outflow into waterways, it removes all of the nitrate output, says USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and lead researcher for the project Dale Jaynes.

“The system removed 100% of the nitrate from 60% of the field tile flow,” Jaynes says. “We figure that 250 kilograms, or about 500 pounds, of nitrate nitrogen was kept out of the stream.”
–Agriculture.com

Mississippi River is Sip of Science topic
Pat Nunnally, the River Life coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, will be the next speaker in the Sip of Science lecture series. The series, sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the university’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, offers scientific discussion in a happy-hour setting.

Nunnally will speak Wedenesday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Cafe,  125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.

The River Life Program connects University teaching, research and programs to off-campus partners who are working toward a sustainable river and inclusive planning for our river future.  The program utilizes diverse digital platforms and makes strong use of social media to create unique learning opportunities — students learn from practitioners, river agency staff network more with each other, and communities up and down the river can share their experiences.

Research: Wis. Dairy wells would lower lakes
State Department of Natural Resources officials will need to decide whether lowering the level of surrounding lakes and streams by about two inches is an acceptable outcome from a planned large dairy operation, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor says.

People who live near the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County asked George Kraft, a hydrogeologist at UW-Stevens Point, to look at the potential impact of two high-capacity wells planned as part of the proposed 4,300-cow dairy operation.

Kraft said he doesn’t favor or oppose the wells, and he’s just providing the DNR with facts about the potential effects.

“Is two inches too much? I don’t know,” Kraft said. “This is up to the DNR; this is beyond the science I’m doing.”

The previous owner of the Richfield property where the proposed operation would be located had one high-capacity well, said Bill Harke, director of public affairs for Milk Source, the group that plans to build the dairy. Company officials said in the DNR application the dairy operation would use about 52 million gallons of water annually.
–Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

MPCA approves taconite expansion
A $300 million expansion proposed for U.S. Steel’s taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn., cleared an important hurdle when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board voted to approve its wastewater emissions permit.

The permit, approved in a unanimous vote, sets a more restrictive level for sulfate emissions than the current state standard. That drew praise from at least one environmentalist who has tracked the permitting process.

“It’s a positive,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney with the environmental group WaterLegacy. “U.S. Steel has owned that plant since 2003, and this is the first time they’ve been asked to comply” with sulfate emission standards, she said.
–The Star Tribune

DNA suggests Asian carp are in Mississippi
Read a Minnesota Public Radio transcript of  Luke Skinner, the Minnesota DNR’s invasive species program director, being interviewed about Asian carp.

States ask Supreme Court to hear carp case
Five Great Lakes states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to require nets in Chicago area waterways to stop the spread of Asian carp.

“We need to close the Asian carp superhighway and do it now,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “Time is running out for the Great Lakes, and we can’t afford to wait years before the federal government takes meaningful action.”

The Supreme Court has previously declined two requests from Michigan to close Chicago area waterways to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan.

A federal appeals panel in August rejected the request of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to close Chicago navigational locks, upholding a district court decision. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cautioned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of the invasive species stall.

Attorneys General for the five states cited that warning in their appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn the panel’s decision.
–The Chicago Tribune

Looking for snow removal contractor?
If you are looking for someone to plow your parking lot, choose a firm trained and certified to remove snow
and ice with minimum chloride pollution of water and soil. Find a list of certified contractors on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site.

New York resisting pressure on ballast rules
 The state of New York does not appear to be bowing to pressure from a group of Great Lakes governors, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to back off on its plan to adopt the region’s toughest ballast discharge laws for overseas ships visiting the Great Lakes.

All overseas vessels sailing into the Great Lakes must pass through New York state waters, and in 2013 New York had planned to begin requiring ships to install water treatment systems in their vessel-steadying ballast tanks in order to kill unwanted hitchhikers making their way into the lakes from ports around the globe.

This did not sit well with Walker and fellow governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio, who in September sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to back off on the law. They fear it could harm overseas traffic, a sector of cargo flow that in recent years has accounted for less than 10% of the tonnage that moves on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes states like Wisconsin are pursuing weaker ballast rules developed by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, that allows for a certain number of species of a certain size to be discharged from the ballast tanks, and ships would not have to meet that requirement until 2016.

New York had proposed standards that are 100 times more stringent than the IMO rules for existing vessels and 1,000 times more stringent for ships built after Jan. 1, 2013.

The problem, according to Walker and the other governors, is that technologies do not yet exist to accomplish what New York is pursuing. They fret that New York’s rule will affect the whole Great Lakes region because it covers ships that are only passing through New York waters. Any ship visiting ports such as Milwaukee, Toledo or Gary, Ind., must first travel through New York waters on its journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ceres investor group takes on water
Against a backdrop of increasing business exposure to global water supply threats, Ceres released a new tool for evaluating those risks – and opportunities – that both investors and companies can use as a roadmap to enhanced water stewardship.

Ceres is a U.S.-based coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

“Water risks are urgent today and, given population and climate trends, can only grow increasingly more so,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the Ceres Aqua Gauge: A Framework for 21st Century Water Risk Management.

Even as companies accelerate water efficiency and improved water resource management, water pressures are likely to worsen. According to estimates by McKinsey & Company, the world may face a 40 percent global shortfall between forecast water demand and available supplies by 2030.
–Ceres News Release

Vilsack opposes crop insurance-conservation rule
 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he is not proposing the linking of conservation compliance with subsidized crop insurance, but he is confident that the farm bill will include some kind of regulatory leverage.

Proposals to cut between $23 billion and $33 billion from the omnibus farm bill have been floated to the 12-member “supercommittee” of lawmakers making federal budget cuts.

The committee’s work, rather than the traditional process of the Senate and House agriculture committees, is expected to frame the next farm bill.
–The Des Moines Register

Kansas lakes filling with sediment
John Redmond Reservoir averages just 6 feet deep.

The lake, which supplies water to several Kansas towns and the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, now sits with only about 58 percent of its original capacity.

The rest is goo.
From the smallest farm pond to the largest reservoirs, all Kansas lakes are slowly filling with dirt. Sediment, the simple mixture of water and dirt, is considered one of Kansas’ largest environmental concerns by some experts.
Currently about 60 percent of Kansans get their water from lakes and that number is expected to grow.

Kansas experts say no simple solutions are in sight.
–The Wichita Eagle

China plans groundwater clean-up
 China has pledged to make all its underground drinking water safe and to significantly improve the overall quality of groundwater by 2020, a goal that even some senior environmental officials say will be difficult to achieve.

All pollution from urban sewage, industrial projects and agricultural activity must be cut off from underground sources so that it will not contaminate the water, said Zhao Hualin, director of pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The government also plans to import technologies for groundwater restoration and start pilot treatment projects in the coming five years, Zhao said, citing a national blueprint to tackle underground water pollution for 2011 to 2020, which the State Council issued in August.

About 63 percent of China’s groundwater is safe for drinking, and the rest is polluted, according to a nationwide monitoring study carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources.
–China Daily