Posts Tagged ‘fracking’

U of M research aims to clean fracking fluid

September 17, 2012

A team of scientists from the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences has received a $600,000 grant to study the use of bacteria to clean waste water from the hydraulic fracturing – fracking – of gas and oil deposits.

The research team plans to use a process originally developed to remove agricultural pesticides from soil and water.

The goal is to take waste water contaminated by the addition of chemicals for the drilling process and clean it to the point it can be re-use in fracking of other wells and to significantly reduce the overall amount of water used by the drilling industry.

Read a university news release about the research.

EPA declares water safe in fracking dispute

July 26, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has closed an investigation into allegations that a Pennsylvania community’s water wells were contaminated by hydraulic fracturing — fracking — for natural gas. The EPA said tests on water samples from 64 homes in Dimock, Penn., found the water is safe to drink. Read an Associated Press account, published in the Washington Post, of the agency’s announcement July 25. Read the EPA news release.


Science on fracking is complicated and takes time

July 20, 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.

Check out a thoughtful Philadelphia Daily News editorial on the widely varying media coverage of some recent Duke University research related to hydraulic fracturing – fracking – in drilling for oil and natural gas. The editorial’s point is that science takes time and advocates are too quick to seize on research to support their beliefs and economic interests. As you read the editorial’s summary of headlines from various media, keep in mind the headline this blog put on a Bloomberg News account of the research:  ‘Duke research has implications for fracking.’

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

Religion, phenology and peregrines on video

May 21, 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.

G. Tracy Mehan III

G. Tracy Mehan III

Lecture set June 25 on Clean Water Act
Forty years ago this autumn, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and enacted the Clean Water Act. The act dramatically reduced pollution from industry and sewage treatment plants that must obtain federal permits to discharge their wastes. But the legislation was much weaker in dealing with today’s biggest water-quality challenge: Polluted runoff from multiple, diffuse sources, especially from agriculture.

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the Clean Water Act’s successes, political obstacles to strengthening the law and alternate avenues to progress.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?

Learn more and reserve your place at the lecture.


Lecture on religion, the environment
What can environmentalism learn from religion about sustainability?

U.K.-based environmental theologian Martin Palmer will explore how faith traditions encourage us to be a part of nature, not apart from nature as the grand finale speaker in the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s Momentum 2012 event series Wednesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m., at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis.

Palmer is a theologian, author, broadcaster, environmentalist and lay preacher in the Church of England, and serves as secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular non-governmental organization that helps faith-based and international groups develop environmental and conservation projects.

His presentation, “Creation or Ecosystems? Rediscovering Our Place in the Natural World,” will challenge the narrow utilitarian view of our planet and explore how we can tap the storytelling skills of the faiths to imagine and create a better future.

Order tickets for the lecture.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Phenology network reaches milestone
Thanks to citizen-scientists around the country, the USA National Phenology Network hit a major milestone by reaching its one millionth nature observation. 

The millionth observation was done by Lucille Tower, a citizen-scientist in Portland, Ore., who entered a record about seeing maple vines flowering. Her data, like all of the entries, came in through USA-NPN’s online observation program,

Nature’s Notebook, which engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the country to observe and record phenology – the timing of the recurring life events of plants and animals such as when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn or when leaves turn colors in the fall.   

Each record not only represents a single data point — the status of a specific life stage of an individual plant or animal on one day – but also benefits both science and society by helping researchers understand how plants and animals are responding to climate change and, in turn, how those responses are affecting people and ecological systems.   

“My dream is that through the wonders of modern technology and the National Phenology Network we could turn the more than six billion people on the planet into components of our scientific observing system,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “We could make giant leaps in science education, improve the spatial and temporal coverage of the planet, lower the cost of scientific data collection, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process.” 
— USGS News Release

Peregrine chicks on video
The Minnesota DNR is offering live streaming video of peregrine falcon chicks in a nest on the Bremer Bank building in downtown St. Paul. Check it out.

MPCA rescues 64 pounds of toxic mercury
Preston Winter was cleaning out his late grandfather’s garage in Floodwood, Minn., when he found four plastic jugs of mercury.

Sixty-four pounds of mercury, to be exact. Enough to fill 30,000 thermometers.

His grandfather apparently had stored the jugs 13 years ago, when he was thinking about mining gold. Figuring he might make a few bucks, Winter, 23, posted a photo on Craigslist and offered the batch for $650 — not realizing that mercury is a highly toxic metal subject to tight legal restrictions.

Officials announced that a state hazardous waste specialist, acting on a tip from someone browsing the online site, went to Winter’s home and picked up the mercury after the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) paid $300 for it.
–The Star Tribune

Fracking sand pollutes St. Croix
An undetermined amount of fine sand sediment from a mining operation near Grantsburg, Wis., has seeped through a protective berm into a wetland and creek and then into the federally protected St. Croix River.

The accident, which turned the creek a creamy coffee color, was discovered by a hiker April 22, three days after a new waste settling pond holding the suspended sand was put into use, Burnett County Conservationist Dave Ferris said.

Damage to wildlife, as well as to stream and river ecosystems, hasn’t been determined yet.

The leak has been stopped, but the mine operator, Maple Grove-based Tiller Corp., faces potential penalties for improper discharge of storm water, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Warmer air temps but cooler streams?
If climate change warms the air, it must also be warming steams, right? Not necessarily, some new U.S.

Geological Survey research finds. Read the report on a new analysis of stream temperatures in the western United States. 

UN plans sustainability summit
Next month, the United Nations will hold what is expected to be the largest ever gathering of leaders to discuss sustainable development at a time when inequality is on the rise from the U.S. to China. Around 180 world leaders are expected to meet in Rio de Janeiro to brainstorm the future of environmental policy and poverty reduction in June.

The question conference gatherers will be trying to answer is “If you could build the future, what kind of future would you want?” For some, it’s healthy water and food. For others, it’s a good job that will help them support themselves and their families.

At a time when humanity is now firm into the 21st century, modern man’s early vision of a future of flying cars and ultra-comfort has surely disappointed. Populations the size of India, the U.S. and Brazil combined still live on less than $2 a day. While that is better than it was in the 1990s, the numbers remain a serious roadblock for some of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

The conference, called “Rio+20”, is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It takes place in Rio de Janeiro on June 22 – twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit took place in the same sunny city.

Heavy rains becoming more common
Read a Pioneer Press article about an analysis of rainfall measured between 1961 and 2011 at 218 weather stations in eight Midwestern states, including Minnesota. The analysis concluded that the average annual number of storms with a 3-inch rainfall increased 103 percent, and storms with at least 2 inches of rain increased 81 percent. The study was done by two environmental groups, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley, quoted in the article, questions some of the analysis’ methodology, but says most climate scientists agree there is an upward trend in the frequency of severe storms.

Sealing wells to protect groundwater
As the Twin Cities suburbs rapidly grew, thousands of homeowners unable to access a water system drilled their own wells to tap the aquifers.

Now the state and counties are sealing the unused wells before they can be used to contaminate the groundwater — a huge undertaking because there are so many.

Within the last year, Minnesota passed the 250,000 mark for the number of sealed wells in the state, according to Department of Health statistics. But at least that many unused wells are left, and perhaps as many as 500,000 more, officials say.

It’s easy for people to forget that the innocuous-looking pipe in their yard or basement is actually a well, says Jill Trescott of Dakota County’s Water Resources Office. Even if homeowners know, they may be tempted to use it to toss out things they don’t know what to do with.
–The Star Tribune

Cormorants missing from Lake Waconia
Double-crested cormorants — large, migratory, fish-eating birds that nest in colonies at this time of year — have returned to the same island on Lake Waconia for years.

Not in 2012.

University of Minnesota researcher Linda Wires spotted only two of the protected birds when she flew over Coney Island late last month. That’s down from 470 cormorant nests — each with two birds — in 2010 and 324 nests last year.

“I would have expected at least some to come back,” said Wires, who since 2004 has been monitoring the 32-acre island in Carver County. “It’s very odd.”

Speculation is that sharpshooters hired in past years to legally reduce the bird’s population — long viewed as a nuisance by anglers who say they eat too many fish — worked a little too well: More than 900 cormorants were shot in the past two years.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill residue found in MN pelicans
Pollutants from the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago are showing up in Minnesota birds that migrate to the gulf.

Researchers for the state Department of Natural Resources have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the oil in the eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Scientists urge environmental priorities
National science academies from 15 countries have called on the leading industrialised economies to pay greater heed to science and technology.

The academies include those from the US, China, India and the UK.

The organisations agreed three statements on tackling Earth’s most pressing problems.

According to Dr Michael Clegg of the US National Academy of Sciences: “In the long term, the pressing concerns are managing the environment in a way that assures that future generations have a quality of life that’s at least as equivalent to the quality of life we enjoy today.”
–The BBC

Groundwater drops in Washington State
Twenty-five communities in Eastern Washington’s arid Columbia River basin could have their municipal wells go dry as soon as a decade, according to a study of the underground aquifer that supplies their groundwater.

State officials say the problem is not an immediate crisis but a looming one, and they are working to better educate those communities about the issue. The combined population in the affected areas stretching from Odessa to Pasco is 200,000 people.

“Many of these communities are now learning about the problem,” said Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “We want them to have contingencies in place so that they’re in a position to deal with it.”
–The Seattle Times

Asian carp; ag certainty; African groundwater

April 23, 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.

Tell us what you think
You’re reading this blog. Perhaps you stumbled upon it through a search engine. Perhaps you have it bookmarked or, better yet, subscribe by email. Please tell us what you think of the blog, how you use it in your work, and how we can make it better. Respond to the blog or contact us at freshwater(at) Thanks. — Pat Sweeney.

$800,000 fine is latest in Ethanol crackdown
A Minnesota ethanol plant has been hit with an $800,000 pollution penalty, the latest in a multi-year regulatory crackdown that state officials say appears to be changing the industry’s ways.

Bushmills Ethanol Inc. of Atwater, Minn., was fined for illegally discharging salt-laden wastewater into a ditch and then lying about it, the state Pollution Control Agency said.

It is the third-highest penalty against a Minnesota ethanol producer in six years, a period when 13 of the state’s 21 plants got caught polluting the air or waterways, and sometimes both. Altogether the penalties have exceeded $5.1 million.

Yet as the state collects the latest fine, a top state regulator said he is hoping the industry’s chronic environmental problems are behind it. “We don’t have any other large enforcement actions going against ethanol plants,” said Jeff Connell, manager of compliance and enforcement for the MPCA’s industrial division. “They may have turned a corner, or at least we are hopeful they have.”
–The Star Tribune

Frederickson, Aasen, Baloun praise  ‘certainty’ 
Read a Star Tribune op-ed on agriculture and water quality written by Dave Frederickson, the Minnesota commissioner of agriculture; Paul Aasen, the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; and Don Baloun, state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The op-ed praises a “certainty” agreement between state and federal agencies that will offer a guarantee to participating farmers who meet certain still-to-be-developed conservation standards  that they will not be obliged to meet more-rigorous standards over a 10-year period if stricter standards are adopted by state or federal agencies.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part I
Read a Fortune Magazine transcript of a conversation between Greg Page, CEO of Cargill, and Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. The conversation at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference was about sustainability and feeding a growing world population.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part II
Jon Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in on a quest for answers to how we can feed the world without destroying it. Read and comment on a blog about Foley’s work by Dave Peters of Minnesota Public Radio.

The Nature That We Make
Read an intriguing essay on conservation, environmentalism and human beings’ role in nature. The essay — The Nature That We Make — was published as an Earth Day 2012 reflection in the American Spectator. It was written by G. Tracy Meham III, an Arlington, Va., consultant who served in the Environmental Protection Agency under both Presidents Bush.

Another Asian carp caught in St. Croix 
A bighead carp was caught Monday (April 16) on the St. Croix River at Prescott, a sobering reminder that while millions of dollars and years of planning have been focused on keeping the invasive fish from Lake Michigan, Asian carp have been in waters along Wisconsin’s western border since at least 1996.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound bighead just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota DNR officials held a news conference in St. Paul to announce the catch. The fish, all 34 inches of it, was iced and on display.

It was the sixth bighead carp found in Wisconsin-Minnesota border waters since 2003; the first was caught in 1996. Most of the invasive fish have been caught in or near Lake Pepin. Minnesota fisheries officials said the fish caught was likely a “loner” that swam north this spring during high water.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Great Lakes lawmakers offer anti-carp bill
Great Lakes lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and destroying the Lakes’ ecosystem.

In the Senate, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), lead sponsor, Rob Portman (R-OH), lead Republican sponsor, and cosponsors Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-M), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Stop Invasive Species Act to require the speedy creation of an action plan to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through a number of rivers and tributaries across the Great Lakes region. Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced similar legislation in the House.

A bipartisan bill introduced last year, the Stop Asian Carp Act, required the Army Corp of Engineers to develop an action plan to permanently separate Lake Michigan from the Chicago Area Waterway System, long seen as the carp’s primary entry point to the Great Lakes. This bill goes further to require a plan to stop Asian carp at all potential entry points.
–Minnesota Ag Connection

Wisconsin slow to enforce phosphorus rules 
Wisconsin is not fully enforcing strict phosphorus limits adopted two years ago to reduce lake-algae blooms that make people sick, a Gannett Wisconsin Media review has found.

That’s despite the Department of Natural Resources secretary’s alarm at foul conditions in at least one Wisconsin lake last summer.

The state Legislature in 2010 approved DNR regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorous running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup. The regulations are aimed at wastewater treatment plants, paper mills and factories — which are required to reapply for permits at five-year intervals.

But, only 19 permits with stricter limits have been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.
–Gannette Wisconsin Media

Greenpeace takes on ‘cloud’ computing
In their race for the cloud, tech companies are leaving a trail of pollution from dirty energy sources, Greenpeace said in a report that accused some of the world’s biggest tech companies of failing to make clean energy a priority.

Cloud computing allows users to store and access data, programs and more on remote servers, preserving computing power. To offer this service, however, requires massive data centers that suck up electricity around the clock. Three tech companies with popular cloud offerings were singled out in Greenpeace’s report for using coal and other fossil fuel energy for their data centers.

“Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud — Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to the source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds,” Gary Cook, senior IT policy analyst at Greenpeace International, wrote as the first key finding in his report.
–The San Jose Mercury News

EPA issues air pollution rules for fracking
Oil and gas companies will have to capture toxic and climate-altering gases from wells,  storage sites and pipelines under new air quality standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule is the first federal effort to address serious air pollution associated with the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which releases toxic and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and hexane, as well as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The standards were proposed last summer in response to complaints from citizens and environmental groups that gases escaping from the 13,000 wells drilled each year by fracking were causing health problems and widespread air pollution. Industry groups said meeting the proposed standards would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and slow the boom in domestic natural gas production.

The original proposal was significantly revised, giving industry more than two years to comply and lowering the cost.
–The New York Times

Senate Ag Committee acting on Farm Bill 
The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee kicked off the massive undertaking of crafting a new farm bill on Friday (April 20), proposing to overhaul the current subsidy program as part of a broader effort to cut $23 billion in spending.

The U.S. farm law, which covers everything from food stamps and conservation programs to direct payments, expires Sept. 30.

Lawmakers in the Senate are expected to debate and then vote on the 900-page bill beginning Wednesday (April 25) in Washington. Even if the bill passes the Senate Agriculture Committee as expected, it is uncertain if the U.S. House, which has targeted cuts of as much as $33 billion including reduced spending for food stamps, will act this year.

Lawmakers in the House have not said when they will move forward on their bill.
–The Des Moines Register

 Africa’s groundwater mapped
Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater.

They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies.
–The BBC World Service

‘Saturated buffer’ cuts nitrogen loss 
Directing tile water through a grass buffer can significantly improve drainage water quality. This new conservation drainage practice, called a “saturated buffer,” removes nitrates from subsurface drainage water at low cost – without affecting farm field drainage.

A 1,000-ft. saturated buffer along Bear Creek in Story County, IA, removed 100% of the nitrate N that was diverted into it, says Dan Jaynes, a soil scientist at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames. That amounted to 550 lbs. nitrate that never reached Bear Creek.

“We’re more than pleased,” Jaynes says. “The practice was more effective than we expected.” These are the results from the first year in a three-year saturated buffer study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
–Corn and Soybean Digest

2011 weather hurt Chesapeake Bay 
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay’s overall health to worsen last year, scientists said, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area’s Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay’s most degraded tributaries.

The beleaguered bay saw its ecological grade slip from a C- in 2010 to D+ last year in an annual report card drawn up by the University of Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the second decline in as many years, with North America’s largest estuary getting its second-worst health score, 38 percent, since scientists began making annual assessments in 1986.
–The Baltimore Sun

Researcher seek carp-specific toxin

April 4, 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.

Asian carp researchers seek ‘bio-bullet’ 
Biologist Jon Amberg has spent the last two years obsessed with fish guts, laboring over a singular challenge: Develop a poison pill that will kill Asian carp and leave other fish unscathed.

Voracious and freakishly resilient, the fish has left a trail of destruction on its decades-long migration up the Mississippi River and into Illinois, seemingly undeterred by the ordinary ammo of invasive species warfare.

Now, designer drugs and engineered poisons, often called “bio-bullets,” have become increasingly popular among scientists trying to create sniper-shot solutions to unyielding problems, from malignant pests in rivers and fields to tumors in human bodies.

“If you look at Asian carp as being kind of like a cancer, we’re in essence developing a drug to be able to target it without killing the ‘cells’ around it,” said Amberg, who works for theU.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse, Wis.

Akin to chemotherapy, attempts to chemically control Asian carp today would require dumping thousands of gallons of pesticide into waterways, possibly harming other aquatic life. By contrast, an Asian carp bio-bullet would theoretically deliver toxins specifically to silver and bighead carp in a digestible microsize particle, about the width of a human hair.
–The Chicago Tribune

Save these dates:
 Thursday, April 12. The Freshwater Society celebrates spring with an  Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser at the Lafayette Club. Don’t miss the loon-calling  competition. Get more information.

 Tuesday, April 19. Dick Osgood, Executive Director of the Lake Minnetonka Association, will present a state-of-the-lake status report on challenges facing Lake Minnetonka. The presentation will focus particularly on aquatic invasive species.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7 p.m. at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Drive in Excelsior. It is sponsored by the South Tonka chapter of the League of Women Voters. Co-sponsors are: the Freshwater Society, the Lake Minnetonka Association, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and Minnesota Waters.

Conservation inextricably linked to Farm Bill
Brian DeVore from the Land Stewardship Project recently wrote a fine Star Tribune op-ed on the federal Farm Bill and crop insurance. The column argues that crop insurance, as it currently is structured, encourages farmers to plant crops on marginal land. DeVore encourages Congress to, once again, make compliance with minimum conservation standards a requirement for the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.

Read DeVore’s Star Tribune op-ed. Read the longer article in the Land Stewardship Project Letter from which the op-ed was adapted. Read a column on the same subject last fall by Freshwater society president Gene Merriam.

Pelicans recovering in Minnesota
Flocks of giant white birds are catching the eyes of birders and outdoor enthusiasts across Minnesota as once-rare American White Pelicans return to their summer nesting grounds at 16 sites across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The pelicans were driven to near extinction in the early 20th century from human pressures. There were no reports of nesting pelicans in Minnesota for 90 years, from 1878 until 1968.

However, conservation efforts led by the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program along with federal regulations have helped pelican populations make a slow and steady comeback. In Minnesota, there are estimated to be about 22,000 pairs of pelicans that nest at 16 sites on seven lakes across the state.

“The Prairie Pothole Region of western Minnesota hosts 22 percent of the global population of this species, making it a stewardship species,” said Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, DNR nongame wildlife specialist.
–DNR News Release

Live Asian carp seized at Canadian border
Canadian authorities say 14,000 pounds of live Asian carp were seized at the U.S.-Canadian border, the third such seizure in less than two months.

Canadian border patrol agents at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, in Canada made the seizure Feb. 28, The Detroit News reported. The seizure, the fifth in the last year, involved fish from farms in the southern United States bound for markets in Toronto, where the invasive species is popular in Asian cuisine, officials said.

Possessing live Asian carp in Ontario has been illegal since 2005, and while it is legal to possess live carp in the United States, transporting them across state lines is prohibited.

MPCA offers truckers loans to cut air pollution 
With diesel fuel prices climbing to $4 per gallon, low-interest loans are available to help Minnesota long-haul truckers save money, stay cool this summer and reduce pollution on overnight rest stops.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers loans at 4 percent to owner-operated long-haul truckers and small trucking companies to purchase idle-reduction devices.

These auxiliary power units, or APUs, are either small, 15-horsepower diesel engines or battery pack systems that can run air conditioning, heaters and electricity to power laptops while the truck’s main engine is shut off.

Paul Ahles, long-haul truck owner-operator, used his new APU on an older truck for nine months and estimated he’s saving $500 per month in fuel idling costs even after deducting a loan payment and fuel and maintenance costs.

Ahles averages about 266 hours of idling per month. Long-haul trucks consume about one gallon of fuel per hour while idling. But a diesel APU will use only one-fifth as much.
–The Brainerd Dispatch

Cottage Groves OKs 3M filtration plan 
The Cottage Grove City Council recently approved a 3M site plan proposal to construct a filtration facility to clean chemically-tainted water before it is re-used or pumped into the Mississippi River.

Seven groundwater extraction wells pump millions of gallons of 3M-manufactured perfluorochemical-tainted water per day from underneath a former 3M dumpsite near the Woodbury-Cottage Grove border. From there it is piped six miles south to the 3M Cottage Grove facility. There, it flows untreated into the Mississippi River.

As part of a 2009 Minnesota Pollution Control decision related to cleanup of east metro PFC groundwater contamination, 3M has proposed to build a carbon filtration facility to clean that water before it is re-used at the Cottage Grove facility or piped into a river cove.
–The South Washington County Bulletin

Moose hunt to continue this fall
Minnesota hunters will still have the chance to shoot moose this fall, state officials announced.

The moose population remains in steady decline, but scientists and wildlife managers agree that a limited hunt of males would not significantly change the number of animals because there are plenty of bulls to impregnate cows. “I don’t think it’ll matter at all,” said Rolf Peterson, a researcher from the Isle Royale moose-wolf study who chairs the state’s moose advisory committee.

The decision by the Department of Natural Resources to issue 87 moose tags – a reduction from past years – comes as adult moose continue to die off faster than young moose are growing into their ranks. The current population in the northeastern part of the state is estimated, based on aerial surveys, at 4,230 animals, down from 4,900 last year and 8,840 in 2006.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

EPA steps back from ‘fracking’ order 
The Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn an order requiring a natural gas drilling company to provide water for two North Texas families based on accusations that the company contaminated water wells.

The EPA said its decision regarding Range Resources drilling in Parker County allows the agency to shift the focus “away from litigation and toward a joint effort on the science and safety of energy extraction.”

Range was accused of contaminating water with benzene, methane and other toxic gases through a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing. The process involves breaking up rock with chemical-laced water to free previously out-of-reach natural gas.

The Fort Worth company and the Texas Railroad Commission argued the contamination came from other natural causes.
–Business Week

Congress considers cormorant clash
To hear the fishermen around Lake Waconia tell it, the ancient black cormorants that congregate on the lake’s Coney Island in the summer are the scourge of the fishes and trees. To naturalists who see the native Minnesota birds as unloved relations of the revered loon, it’s all a big fish tale.

A congressional panel was left to sort it all out, hearing a bill by two of Minnesota’s leading outdoors-men and congressmen that would give the state wider latitude to shoot some of the federally protected birds. That’s already the standard method of culling cormorant flocks that have hurt fisheries in Leech Lake and other popular recreational areas.

Now Carver County’s Lake Waconia — the metro area’s second-largest lake — is ground zero in the battle against a bird long derided for its ability to dive, propel itself underwater and eat prized fish that humans like to put on their dinner plates.
–The Star Tribune

Low water keeps White Bear beach closed
Low water levels have closed one of the most popular swimming beaches in the north metro area for the fourth summer in a row.

The Ramsey County Parks Department recently announced Ramsey Beach off Highway 96 in White Bear Lake will be closed to swimming during the summer of 2012. Signs have been posted warning swimmers to stay out of the water.

“It’s highly likely we’re not going to open it again this summer,” said Director of Park Services and Operations Jody Yungers. “Unfortunately the water levels are too low.”

The White Bear Lake water level has dropped more than 5 feet below its ordinary high water mark since 2009. The decrease has exposed hundreds of feet of open beach and move the water line close to a dramatic drop off. Yungers said swimmers would encounter an 8-foot drop-off just a few feet from the shoreline. The drop-off would create dangerous conditions for inexperienced swimmers.
 –The White Bear Press  


UN calculates ag pollution’s worldwide cost

March 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.

Save these dates:

  •  March 29. The Freshwater hosts a conference on precision conservation, the science and philosophy of putting conservation practices into place at spots on the landscape where are most effective and provide the most return on investment. Learn more.
  • April 12. The Freshwater Society’s Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser celebrates spring. Get info at The event will be from 5:30 to 8;30 p.m. at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. There will be music, food, a silent auction and – where else can you find this? – a loon-calling contest.

UN report: Ag pollution costs billions worldwide 
Water pollution from agriculture is costing billions of dollars a year in developed countries and is expected to increase in China and India as farmers race to increase food production, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

“Pollution from farm pesticides and fertilizers is often diffuse, making it hard to pin down exactly where it’s coming from,” Kevin Parris, author of a report from the Paris-based organization, said in an interview in Marseille. “In some big agricultural countries in Europe, like parts of France, Spain and the U.K., the situation is deteriorating.”

In some regions of China, pollution of waterways from agriculture may already have reached the point where it may trigger health problems in people, he said.

The OECD report is part of a series of studies published to coincide with the World Water Forum in Marseille. Ministers, industry representatives and non-government organizations are discussing resource management, waste, health risks and climate change at the meeting. Pollution from farming is gaining prominence as the global population increases, raising demand for food and putting strain on water resources.

EPA sued over Mississippi R. pollution
A number of environmental groups, led by the Gulf Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed two lawsuits to force the Environmental Protection Agency to set and enforce water quality standards for the Mississippi River. The lawsuits, filed in New Orleans and New York, target nutrient pollution from farm fields and sewage treatment plants. The pollution contributes to the massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Read a Reuters report on the two suits. Read a Des Moines Register article focusing on Iowa and the Midwest. Read the court filings.

California nitrate pollution worsens 
Nitrate contamination of groundwater in some of the state’s most intensely farmed regions has grown worse in recent decades and will continue to spread, threatening the drinking water supplies  of more than 250,000 people, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by UC Davis scientists, underscores the complexity of dealing with nitrate pollution, which is largely the result of nitrogen leaching into aquifers from fertilizers and manure applied to cropland.

High nitrate levels have been linked to cancer and reproductive disorders and can be lethal to infants. Examining groundwater data from the southern San Joaquin and Salinas valleys, the authors concluded that even if all farming operations ceased, nitrates would remain in water supplies and continue to spread for decades.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conference March 18 and 19 on aquatic invasives 
A two-day conference in St. Paul will present state and national speakers discussing the threat of aquatic invasive species – both plants and animals. The conference, sponsored by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and a number of partners, will be held Monday and Tuesday, March 19 and 20, at the Kelly Inn, near the state Capitol.

The first day will focus on aquatic invasive plants such as flowering rush and curly leaf pondweed, include an update on AIS initiatives during the 2012 Minnesota legislative session and an appearance by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has introduced federal legislation to curb the spread of Asian carp. The second day will focus on aquatic invasive animals such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.  Learn more and view an agenda.

EPA review discounts fracking complaints
Federal environmental regulators say well water testing at 11 homes in a northeastern Pennsylvania village where a gas driller was accused of polluting the aquifer failed to show elevated levels of contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency is sampling well water at dozens of homes in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

The agency said  it received initial test results for 11 homes. Regulators say water samples from six of the 11 homes showed sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but at safe levels. Arsenic was found in the well water of two homes but at low levels.
–The Associated Press

 Climate-driven flooding imperils millions 
About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.
–The New York Times

Ogallala restrictions worry Texas farmers
J. O. Dawdy, who has been a farmer for 36 years, is so worried about getting enough groundwater that he is considering a lawsuit to protect his right to it.

As sleet pounded his West Texas farmhouse one recent afternoon, Mr. Dawdy and three other farmers said that new regulations — which limit the amount of water they can withdraw from the Ogallala Aquifer and require that new wells have meters to measure use — could have crippling effects on their livelihoods.

“We view it as a real property-rights violation,” said Mr. Dawdy, who grows cotton. If the restrictions had been in place last year during the drought, he said, his land would not have produced a crop.

Water is a contentious issue across Texas, but tensions have been especially high in a 16-county groundwater conservation district stretching from south of Lubbock into the Panhandle, an area considered part of America’s “breadbasket.” There, farmers reliant on the slowly diminishing Ogallala are fighting to maintain their right to pump unrestricted amounts of water.
–The Texas Tribune

Study evaluates all-renewable power future 
If you’ve ever driven past the wind farms in southern Minnesota or seen a house with solar panels, maybe you’ve wondered how much of the state’s total electricity demand wind and solar power could support.

According to a study released March 13, the answer is 100 percent. All of Minnesota’s electricity generation could be met by a combination of wind and solar energy, as long as it’s combined with big energy storage and grid improvements that dramatically reduce demand, the study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research says.

In the end, electricity would cost about 3 cents more per kilowatt hour than today’s statewide average of about 10.6 cents for residential customers, the study by the Takoma Park, Md.-based think tank concluded.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lowly eelpout may be in decline 
The eelpout or burbot, that beady-eyed freshwater cod widely known as the “ish of fish” for its unsightly appearance, doesn’t get a lot of attention, but fisheries managers in Minnesota and North Dakota say the species is in decline.

“It’s almost more of an anecdotal thing,” said Tom Heinrich, large lake specialist for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn. “They’re not all that vulnerable to gillnets, which are our primary lake assessment gear. Most of the information is based on what you see on the ice. People just aren’t catching nearly the ’pout they used to.”
 –Grand Forks Herald

MPCA seeks citizen water quality monitors
Do you live near a lake or stream in Minnesota, or visit one regularly? If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency needs your help!

Join more than 1,500 Minnesotans who track the health of their favorite lake or stream through the Citizen Lake or Citizen Stream Monitoring Programs.

These volunteers measure water clarity in their lake or stream weekly throughout the summer months, using simple equipment provided by the MPCA. Water clarity, or transparency, is an important indicator of the health of a lake or stream. The MPCA uses water clarity data to track water quality trends and make decisions on watershed protection and restoration. For some lakes and streams, data collected by volunteers is the only data available, making this work very valuable.

To become a volunteer or learn more about the program, visit the MPCA’s website, or  call 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities) or 800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota). Read a 2009 Freshwater Society article about the lake and stream monitoring programs.
–MPCA News Release

Sewage effluent cools Google in Ga. 
The data center has become the coal-fired power plant of the tech industry – the most visible symbol of the online world’s environmental impact. And in recent years, Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants have undertaken efforts, voluntarily and under pressure from groups like Greenpeace, to slash their massive electricity consumption and secure power from renewable energy sources.

Now Google has opened a new front on a less-noticed impact of data centers – water consumption. Like power plants, data centers, with their acres of servers, suck up millions of gallons of water a year for cooling (as an alternative to using electricity-hogging mechanical chillers).

Google said it had switched to using recycled water at its Douglas County, Ga., data center rather than continue to tap drinking water as it had when the facility opened in 2007.

“But we soon realized that the water we used didn’t need to be clean enough to drink,” Jim Brown, Google’s data center facilities manager, wrote in a blog post. “So we talked to the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority (known locally as the WSA) about setting up a system that uses reuse water – also known as gray or recycled water – in our cooling infrastructure. With this system in place, we’re able to use recycled water for 100% of our cooling needs.”

Aquatic invasives draw legislative flurry

March 12, 2012

Invasives spur rare unanimity at Capitol
From electric barriers to a proposed research center at the University of Minnesota, aquatic-invader legislation is gaining traction at the state Capitol. Millions of state dollars are almost certain to follow.

More than a dozen bills have been introduced so far this session to address a looming problem for boaters and other water enthusiasts: the spread of invasive creatures such as Asian carp and zebra mussels into lakes and rivers. Those and other invaders on the horizon can alter aquatic ecosystems and disrupt popular activities, including fishing, boating and waterskiing.

The state has responded to the threats before, but never with so much muscle or variety.

With genetic evidence of silver carp found in two Twin Cities-area rivers last year and three Asian carp caught earlier this month in the Mississippi River near Winona, a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold. The recent netting was the farthest upstream that a silver carp has been caught.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Anti-carp bills seek review of closing locks
Five members of the Minnesota congressional delegation introduced legislation aimed at slowing the spread of invasive Asian carp in state waters.

Their proposal would order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct feasibility studies on both the temporary and permanent closings of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Dam and to complete the studies within six months and a year, respectively, of the bill becoming law.

Depending on the findings, the corps would then be given broader authority to close the navigation lock at the Minneapolis dam. If Asian carp were found nearby, it would require the dam to be closed until effective controls were put in place.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Dayton calls for $$ for Coon Rapids Dam
Read an op-ed in the Outdoor News in which Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton calls for state spending to repair the Coon Rapids Dam as a deterrent to Asian carp migration up the Mississippi River.

Three important dates
Mark your calendar for three important upcoming events:

 On Saturday, March 17, the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor a Watershed Solutions Summit at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. Protection of the Great Lakes and the federal Farm Bill are among issues on the agenda.

 On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society and a number of co-sponsors will host a conference on precision conservation.

 On Thursday, March 12, Freshwater will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser. There will be music, food, drink, a silent auction and a loon-calling competition.

When will the ice break up on Lake Minnetonka? 
The winter we had, and the temperatures we’re getting, are bringing us closer to the breakup every day.

The surest indicator of an early ice-out is a balmy winter in December, January and February. And the 26.3 degree average temperature we had in those months makes it the fourth-balmiest winter on record.

In ice-out records going back to 1855, the earliest ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was March 11, and the latest was May 8. Last year, ice-out came on April 14, the median date for ice-out.

Check out a year-by-year record and a calendar showing how many times ice-out has occurred on specific dates.

Give some thought to water beneath our feet
 Did you know that this week – March 11 through 17 – is National Groundwater Awareness Week? Spend a few moments to learn more about this precious resource.

Firm to phase out coal tar driveway sealant 
Coal-tar residues that can contaminate stormwater ponds may become a thing of the past thanks to a voluntary phase-out by Eagan-based Jet-Black International, one of the nation’s larger franchisers of pavement seal-coating services.

The company decided to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealers late this winter in response to scientific data showing that coal-tar-based sealers are an important source of contamination to stormwater-collection systems in Minnesota.

The switch to an asphalt-based formulation will help keep harmful chemicals out of Minnesota’s surface waters. The phase-out calls for all 25 of Jet-Black’s Minnesota franchises to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealants in 2012, with a complete change to an asphalt emulsion sealant by the start of the 2013 season.

“Jet-Black stepped up and took action to phase out coal tar in their sealant,” MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said. “When an industry leader embraces science-based recommendations like this, it really helps.”
–MPCA News Release

EPA to re-test ‘fracking’ pollution 
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to work with the Wyoming state government to retest water supplies after a federal report last year concluded natural gas drilling likely polluted a local aquifer.

The EPA has been investigating an aquifer near natural gas drilling in Pavillion, Wyoming, for years after residents complained their drinking water smelled and tasted odd. It concluded in a December draft report done without broad input from the state that chemicals including benzene, alcohols and glycols likely migrated up into the aquifer from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

Wyoming politicians and the oil and gas industry criticized the report when it came out. Matt Mead, the governor of Wyoming which produced 10 percent of U.S. natural gas in 2010, called for more sampling, more data, and more participation in the study by state regulators.

Wisconsin iron mine plan dropped 
The state Senate rejected mining legislation, prompting a prominent mining company to say it was abandoning a project after months of often bitter debate that pitted conflicting claims of economic development against environmental protection.

“Senate rejection of the mining reforms . . . sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message,” said a statement from Bill Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite LLC. “(We are) ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”

Top Republican leaders said they considered the measure dead. At stake were an estimated 600 to 700 jobs at a large open pit mine in northern Wisconsin. Bob Seitz, a lobbyist representing Gogebic, said: “This isn’t an attempt to negotiate anything because that’s done.” He said that the company made numerous concessions, and wasn’t willing to go any further.

“We let something slip away,” said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). His comments came shortly after Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voted with all Democrats to reject the bill, 17-16.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Climate change and groundwater demand
Climate change has been studied extensively, but a new body of research guided by a San Francisco State University hydrologist looks beneath the surface of the phenomenon and finds that climate change will put particular strain on one of our most important natural resources: groundwater.

SF State Assistant Professor of Geosciences Jason Gurdak says that as precipitation becomes less frequent due to climate change, lake and reservoir levels will drop and people will increasingly turn to groundwater for agricultural, industrial, and drinking water needs. The resource accounts for nearly half of all drinking water worldwide, but recharges at a much slower rate than aboveground water sources and in many cases is nonrenewable.

“It is clear that groundwater will play a critical role in society’s adaption to climate change,” said Gurdak, who co-led a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists who are now urging policymakers to increase regulations and conservation measures on nonrenewable groundwater.

The scientists recently released a book of their research, titled “Climate Change Effects on Groundwater Resources,” that is the result of a global groundwater initiative by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They will soon make their case to international policymakers at the March 12-17 World Water Forum in Marseille, France.
–Science Codex

Some good news on world drinking water
Close to nine out of every 10 people in the world now has access to clean, safe drinking water, finds a report issued by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The new statistic means that the world has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water in advance of the 2015 deadline.

The safe drinking water target is part of the Environmental Sustainability Goal. Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. By 2010, 89 percent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, exceeding the target of 88 percent.

“Today we recognize a great achievement for the people of the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “This is one of the first MDG targets to be met. The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the Millennium Development Goals not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.”
–Environmental News Service

Conserving Mower County – one farm at a time 
One could say Justin Hanson has a full-time job in persistence. Without that trait, he would likely be doing something else. As a man who persuades farmers to retire farmland for conservation projects, he’s no stranger to the word “no.”

“We spend a lot of time failing,” Hanson said about his job. “It’s like baseball — you miss more than you hit.” So he keeps swinging.

Hanson is a resource specialist with the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District, and though he’s all about preserving the land and protecting the water, he knows he wouldn’t have a job without farmers. His job relies on their land, which is also why his job may become increasingly difficult.
–Austin Daily Herald

Even Antarctica beset by invasive species 
Alien species are invading Antarctica from as far away as the Arctic — and could fundamentally alter ecosystems in the world’s last relatively untouched continent, an international team of scientists has reported.

The risks from these biological interlopers — seeds and plant material carried in on the shoes and clothing of well-meaning scientists, ecotourists and support staff — will increase as the icy content continues to thaw because of climate change, the scientists reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People think of Antarctica as a pristine wilderness, but that is fast changing, said lead author Steven Chown of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Over the last few decades, human activity there has increased dramatically. During the 2007-08 summer season, about 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists (including support personnel) made landfall there, bringing unintended ecological consequences, Chown said.
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA underestimated cost of Florida water rule 
Federal environmental officials underestimated the cost of implementing their new water pollution rules for Florida, just as critics have been saying, a National Research Council panel concluded in a report.

The committee of scientists was not asked to offer its own estimate but wrote that whatever the expense turns out to be it would be small compared to the ultimate cost of restoring Florida’s waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which commissioned the study, issued a statement saying it already is incorporating some of the report’s recommendations in its economic analysis. It noted that the scientists also found critics’ estimates of much higher costs also were faulty.
–The Associated Press

Anti-mining petition delivered by dog sled
A former Minnesota legislator finished a 360-mile dog-sled trip to the State Capitol and delivered anti-sulfide mining petitions to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Frank Moe, a former DFL state representative from Bemidji, began the trip March 1, and ended it with an event on the State Capitol steps.

He said Dayton accepted the petition, which contained almost 13,000 signatures, and asked several questions about it.

State, federal and other operations are preparing a detailed environmental review of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota.

Environmental groups pointing to problems elsewhere with such sulfide-mining operations oppose allowing it in the region because it could pollute watersheds leading to the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior. But supporters of PolyMet’s proposal argue that safeguards can be added, allowing crucial jobs to be created in that area.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lubber lecture, conservation conference set

February 21, 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.

Don’t forget: Two Freshwater events coming up
Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers. Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.

Lubber, a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will speak at 7 p.m.  in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Dave White, NRCS chief

Dave White

And on March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a conference on precision conservation.

Precision conservation is the science and philosophy of placing conservation practices at spots on the landscape where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improving water quality and soil loss is disproportionately great.

Dave White, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will deliver the luncheon keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.

Peter Gleick admits deceit in climate leak
A prominent environmental researcher, activist and blogger from California admitted that he had deceitfully obtained and distributed confidential internal materials from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group based in Chicago devoted in part to questioning the reality of global warming.

Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, wrote in a statement published on The Huffington Post that he had posed as someone else to get the materials, which include fund-raising and strategy documents intended only for the board and top executives of the group.

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial.

The document release, which lit up the Internet, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute’s efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. The Institute asserted that document, which is in a different format and type style from the rest of the Heartland materials, was a fake, but implicitly acknowledged that others were legitimate and vowed to legally pursue those who stole and published them.

In his statement, Dr. Gleick said he had received the dubious strategy paper anonymously in the mail this year. He said he did not know the source of the document but said he tried to confirm the validity of the document because the disclosures in them would serve to undercut the institute’s mission.

“In an effort to do so,” he wrote, “and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”
–The New York Times

Pricing alternative zebra mussel strategies 
There’s one way to slow – really slow – the spread of invasive zebra mussels in their steady campaign to populate all of Minnesota’s waters.

The simple plan, which some have off-handedly suggested: require boat inspections at every launch. Cost: $2,300 per boat owner, on average.

Oh. Guess that won’t happen.  That sobering price tag is one of several such figures contained in a new Department of Natural Resources report examining what it would actually cost to combat the little enemy mollusks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Snuffbox mussel is endangered 
 A small mussel that’s found in the St. Croix River and few other places has been declared endangered by the federal government.

The snuffbox mussel has disappeared from 62 percent of the streams where it was historically found. The survival of this native mussel — which can live for decades — is threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, due in part to pollution and sedimentation. Non-native zebra mussels are also a threat.

The National Park Service is raising snuffbox mussels and releasing them in the gorge area of Mississippi River Pool 2 in St. Paul, where water conditions have improved in recent years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama proposes cut in EPA aid to states
 President Obama proposed a fiscal year 2013 budget containing $8.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $105 million decrease from fiscal 2012 achieved through cuts to state wastewater treatment and drinking water funds.

The proposed 1.2 percent decrease in EPA funding would mostly come from reduced funding for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, which provide capitalization grants to states for loans for water infrastructure. The president’s budget also would reduce funding for superfund cleanup efforts and eliminate a clean diesel grant program and replace it with a combination of rebates and grants. The budget proposal contains increased funding for priority programs, including a large increase for state and tribal air quality and water pollution programs.

While overall assistance to states would decline, EPA’s operating budget would increase under the budget proposal from $3.57 billion in fiscal 2012 to $3.74 billion in fiscal 2013. The proposal would increase funding for targeted water infrastructure and Chesapeake Bay restoration, while maintaining funding levels for leaking underground storage tanks programs and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Bill seeks further permitting changes 
A House committee approved a bill to streamline the environmental review and permitting process. The bill picks up where last year’s streamlining law left off. It would allow project proposers to hire a consultant who can actually draft permits, a job currently in the hands of the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

But Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the state still would have final authority. “No matter what you do in regards to filing your application, the PCA and DNR still have to approve,” Fabian said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Texas research downplays ‘fracking’ threat 
The concern that hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas is contaminating groundwater is overstated, claims a new report.

Researchers reviewing the available data in the US found nothing to suggest “fracking” had a unique problem. Rather, they suggest the contamination events that do arise are just as likely to afflict other types of oil and gas drilling operations.

The claims were made at the annual AAAS conference in Vancouver, Canada. Charles “Chip” Groat, associate director of Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, led the study. “The bottom line conclusion of our study is that in the states we investigated, we found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself, the practice of fracturing the rocks, had contaminated shallow groundwater,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.
–BBC News

Taconite plant to pay air pollution penalty
Northshore Mining Co. has agreed to pay a $240,175 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) for air-quality violations that the MPCA says occurred at the company’s taconite-processing plant in Silver Bay. The violations were for emissions of excessive amounts of very fine dust that is unhealthy to breathe. Northshore is also taking steps to prevent future violations, including emission-control improvements at its large taconite pellet storage yard.

Between November 2010 and May 2011, ambient air quality monitors located between the taconite pellet storage yard and the Silver Bay marina measured violations of permit limits for particulate matter, or dust, smaller than 10 microns (PM10) in width, or about one-fourth the diameter of a human hair. Dust deposits were also documented at the Silver Bay marina. PM10-size dust is one of the federal and state governments’ health-based standards that help determine the levels where exposure can compromise human health.
–MPCA News Release

Sustainability pioneer sentenced to prison
A pioneer of the sustainable business movement, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with asbestos-related deaths at his former company, Eternit AG.

A court in Turin, Italy, ruled that Schmidheiny and lead Eternit shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier were partially responsible for hundreds of deaths and illnesses caused by asbestos in Eternit factories. They were also sentenced to pay damages, which reportedly could reach past 250 million euros ($330 million), to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.

Schmidheiny announced in 1978 that Eternit would stop making products with asbestos, when he became president of its board of directors. Half of production was asbestos-free by 1984, and the company last used asbestos minerals a decade later, according to Eternit AG’s website. The company closed its Italian facilities in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos.

Schmidheiny is also the founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides a forum for 200 member companies with combined revenue of more than $7 trillion “to develop innovative tools that change the status quo,” according to the website of the Geneva-based group. He founded the council after Maurice Strong, then secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, appointed Schmidheiny as his principal advisor on business and industry “to represent the voice of business” at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

China faces water quality, quantity woes
China faces a tougher situation in water resources in the future as demand increases amid the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization, an official said at a press conference. Hu Siyi, vice minister of water resources, said water shortages, serious river pollution and the deteriorating aquatic ecology are “quite outstanding” and may threaten the country’s sustainable growth. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China now consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources, Hu said.

“Because of the grave situation, we must put in place the strictest water resources management system,” he said. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the average per capita of water resources is only 2,100 cubic meters annually, or about 28 percent of the world’s average level.