Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Arctic sea ice hits new low

August 29, 2012

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record, a confirmation of the drastic warming in the region and a likely harbinger of larger changes to come.

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is only slightly below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, a government-sponsored research agency in Boulder, Colo., announced the findings in collaboration with NASA. The amount of sea ice in the summer has declined more than 40 percent since satellite tracking began in the late 1970s, a trend that most scientists believe is primarily a consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.

“It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated,” said Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University scientist who studies the effect of sea ice on weather patterns. “It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth.”
–The New York Times  

Ex-skeptic further supports climate change

July 31, 2012

Richard A. Muller, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist, used to be a prominent scientific skeptic on climate change. Last year, he concluded global warming is real. Now, read a New York Times op-ed in which Muller goes further and says he’s convinced “humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Beer, Asian carp, manganese and nutria

November 29, 2010

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

Want a beer with that climate talk?
Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, will give a free public lecture — “Weather vs. Climate: A Minnesota Perspective” – Wednesday, Dec. 8, as part of  a new science happy hour series from the university’s  National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.

The happy hour lecture series is called “A SIP OF SCIENCE.”   It will be held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St. at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

 The series — free and open to the public – combines food, beer and learning in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications and its fascinations.

Seeley will touch on such questions as: Are summers in Minnesota really getting more hot and humid? Are we experiencing more frequent thunderstorms than we used to? If so, what does it all mean? How do we put our day-to-day weather experiences into the context of a changing Minnesota Climate?

U.N. climate negotiators gather in Cancun
To hear climate change negotiators describe it, this week’s U.N. global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, is shaping up like a confab of homebuilders.

 Delegates say they are “laying foundations,” setting up “frameworks” and installing the “building blocks” for a future treaty.

They might also need a bomb shelter. Analysts say a blast is ready to detonate, and it’s called the Kyoto Protocol.

 “It is one of those issues that could blow up in a toxic way,” one British climate diplomat told ClimateWire.

 As negotiators from 192 countries descend on the Latin American city, best known for its sandy, white beaches and spring break nightlife, many delegates still carry the bitterness of last year’s contentious climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the same time, participants insist, they spent much of 2010 trying to repair the rifts and are ready to get to work.
–The New York Times

 Manganese rule relaxation rejected
Minnesota will keep, for now, an existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Health was proposing to weaken the rule, but reversed course after receiving public comments.

 One of those comments came from Paula Maccabee at the environmental group Water Legacy.

“We’re very pleased that the Minnesota Health Department has listened to Water Legacy and other citizens of Minnesota, and is keeping in place Minnesota rules that protect children and elderly persons,” Maccabe said. “We think that’s a very positive step.”

 About 30 individuals and public interest groups protested, pointing to a health effects study published in September.

 At small dose, manganese is good for us, but in larger amounts it can harm the nervous system. The Health Department was planning to adopt a looser federal standard, until it could study the problem thoroughly.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Coming to a fur coat near you: Invasive nutria
What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. In New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.

 Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

 A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
–Audubon Magazine

 Invasive medusahead grass threatens rangeland
Burmese pythons in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, feral pigs and other mammals in Hawaii: These are just a few of the dozens of stories about animals introduced — accidentally or deliberately — in the U.S. that have ended up playing havoc on regional ecologies and economies.

But invasive species also extend to plant life. Residents of the South are well acquainted with kudzu, the fast-growing and disruptive vine originally intended as livestock feed and for erosion control. Purple loosestrife arrived in New England back in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, but now threatens to clog and dry out great areas of America’s wetlands — while reportedly costing communities across the country about $45 million a year in control efforts.

Here’s yet another invasive plant species, and a particularly nasty one, to add to the list: Medusahead, aka medusa’s head. It’s a Mediterranean grass accidentally brought to the Western U.S. in the 1880s. Researchers at Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service have a new report warning that Medusahead is threatening to crowd out native grasslands in the West — to the detriment of both wildlife and livestock.
–Daily Finance

Asian carp heads back to Asia
An Illinois fish processor is sending 44,000 pounds of Asian carp back to Asia as food. A small startup in Pearl, Ill., the Big River Fish Company is just one group that sees Asian carp not as a voracious, invasive species, but as a business opportunity.

 Asian carp can be huge — up to 100 pounds — and they have been feasting on native fish in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Originally introduced to the United States in the 1970s to eat algae, the carp now threaten the Great Lakes.

But those attempting to market the fish say the tasty white meat is destined for culinary greatness, and some fishermen see the carp as the next frontier in commercial fish production.
–National Public Radio

Putting the (farmed) perch back in fish fries
Three Milwaukee entrepreneurs have launched an experiment in an abandoned crane factory to try to reestablish a fish native to Lake Michigan: perch. The fish was once a stable of the traditional Friday fish fry. But in the 1980s, the perch population in Lake Michigan plunged and by 1996 commercial fishing was banned.
–National Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Drinking water emergency called in California town
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of percchlorate,  a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism. 

According to the governor’s declaration, more than 40,000 customers were without their normal supply of drinking water, and several restaurants, hotels and other businesses had to close because of the contamination.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Invasive lionfish threatened Florida ecosystem
Crawling through turquoise murk on the ocean floor near Tea Table Key, Rob Pillus glances at a half dozen lobsters that twirl their antennae in the fast-moving current. Mr. Pillus, an avid spear fisherman, would normally stuff the crustaceans into his mesh bag for dinner, but today he is after more exotic quarry: an invasive species called the lionfish that threatens to wreak havoc on this ecologically sensitive marine system.

 Within a few minutes Mr. Pillus spots a lionfish and its extravagant zebra-striped fins on a bridge pylon. He steadies his homemade spear and skewers the fish, slicing off its venomous fins before putting it in his bag. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up and keeps moving.
–The New York Times

 Rep. McCollum calls for triclosan ban
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and two congressional colleagues are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps, shampoos, household cleaners and even such products as socks and toys. They’ve asked for a full review of triclosan to be submitted to Congress by April. The co-sponsors are Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that for years the scientific community has expressed concern over triclosan contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.”

“Bacteria – bugs around us – are actually quite smart, and exposing them to antibacterials or antimicrobial chemicals helps to make them smarter. So putting an antibacterial or antimicrobial like Triclosan out there in the environment and our waterways unnecessarily is just not a good idea at all.”
–public news service

Comments sought on Lake Vermillion park plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine state parks to attend one of two open houses in December to comment on the parks’ draft master plan.

 The draft master plan, which covers both state parks, includes statements about the types of activities (e.g., hiking, camping, boating) that will be offered, how natural and cultural resources will be protected and interpreted, and suggested locations for major facilities within the parks.

The open houses will be: 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m., Silverwood Regional Park, 2500 W. County Road E., Fridley.
  • Thursday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tower Civic Center, 402 Pine St., Tower.

 For an electronic copy of the plan, more information, and a public input questionnaire about the parks’ draft master plan, call the DNR at  651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
–DNR News Release

Water security as a national and global issue
The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a new and interesting fact sheet on the importance fresh water plays in national and global security.

 It describes how conflicts over water can occur and can be exacerbated by population increase and economic growth.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 

Farm tiling called major cause of hypoxia

October 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What will happen is unpredictable,” Swanson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘Dead zones’ expand; ag-water conference set

March 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manure: The huge new pollution challenge

March 1, 2010

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

Manure: The new pollution challenge
Nearly 40 years after the first Earth Day, this is irony: The United States has reduced the manmade pollutants that left its waterways dead, discolored and occasionally flammable.

But now, it has managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world.

Animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become an unlikely modern pollution problem, scientists and environmentalists say. The country simply has more dung than it can handle: Crowded together at a new breed of megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields.
–The Washington Post

Court rulings hamstring EPA enforcement
Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.
–The New York Times

 Dairy lobby gains influence in Wisconsin
As the number of factory farms has grown in Wisconsin, so has the power of the Dairy Business Association, a lobbying group that has gained unprecedented influence over the permitting and regulation of the giant farms — in some cases, crafting the law itself. 

Correspondence and memos obtained through the state’s open records law show the association is heavily involved not only in shaping policy but also has intervened in the state’s handling of individual permit applications. 

The DBA is the most powerful advocate on behalf of the state’s biggest dairies, those with 700 or more cows, requiring them to get pollution permits from the state Department of Natural Resources. Each of the farms produces millions of gallons of liquid manure that is stored in large lagoons and spread on fields. In some cases, waste has run into nearby streams or polluted nearby wells. 

Despite the volume of waste, an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal found inspections by the DNR have been spotty, with some farms being checked only once during the five-year life of their permit.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

EPA criticizes Polymet mine proposal
The Environmental Protection Agency says the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine proposed for northeastern Minnesota should not go ahead as currently planned. 

The EPA listed more than two-dozen so-called inadequacies in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ draft environmental impact statement, or EIS. 

The DNR’s Steve Colvin says the criticisms come in part because of a difference in approach by the two levels of government. 

“In the federal process, you’re expecting the information in the EIS to be more detailed, very close to what you need to make a permit decision, whereas in the state process you’re not at that permitting level of detail,” Colvin said. 

The EPA warned of possible impacts to water quality and wetlands, increased emissions of mercury into the Lake Superior watershed, and what it called “inadequate financial assurance for performance.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Climate change panel seeks review of procedures
Because of recent criticism of its work, the Nobel Prize-winning international panel studying global warming is seeking independent outside review for how it makes major reports, the panel said. 

Critics have found a few unsettling errors — including incorrect projections of retreats in Himalayan glaciers — in the thousands of pages of the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Scientists say the problems, ranging from typos in key dates to sloppy sourcing, are minor and have nothing to do with the major conclusions about man-made global warming and how it will harm people and ecosystems. But researchers acknowledge that they have been slow to respond to criticisms in the past three months. And those criticisms seem to have resonated in poll results and news media coverage that have put climate scientists on the defensive. 

“The IPCC clearly has suffered a loss in public confidence,” Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, a chairman of one of the IPCC’s four main research groups, told the Associated Press on Saturday. “And one of the things that I think the world deserves is a clear understanding of what aspects the IPCC does well and what aspects of the IPCC can be improved.”
The Washington Post

Minnesota budget fix taps boating fees
There’s no doubt Minnesota’s budget is in crisis. But now the state’s 860,000 boaters might help close that $1.2 billion deficit.

 Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s supplemental budget calls for $1.2 million to be taken from the state’s Water Recreation Account — funds generated by boat registration and other boater fees — and put in the general fund.

 The diversion apparently is unprecedented.
–The Star Tribune

 Obama Great Lakes plan lauded, questioned
The Obama Administration’s Great Lakes restoration plan is getting favorable marks in the upper midwest, but many details, including most of the funding, remain to be worked out.

 The five year action plan spells out specific targets and goals the Obama Administration wants to reach while spending more than $2 billion over five years on its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 The plan takes on challenges including invasive species, long-term pollution and wildlife restoration.

 Tom Landwehr with the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota says the plan lays out a coordinated approach to restoring a huge swath of U.S. territory.

“There are so many…entities that have some role in management regulation of the Great Lakes, that it’s absolutely imperitive that there be some kind of coordinating plans to go forward,” Landwehr said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 USGS scientists take aim at Asian carp
Scientists are stepping up the quest for new poisons and other tools that could prevent Asian carp from gaining a foothold in the Great Lakes, Obama administration officials told a congressional panel. 

U.S. Geological Survey experts are looking at short- and long-term methods of reining in the invasive fish amid rising fears they may have eluded electrical barriers on Chicago waterways and are poised to colonize Lake Michigan, said Leon Carl, the agency’s Midwest executive. 

“The pressure is on our scientists,” Carl said, adding that money provided under the Obama administration’s $78.5 million carp control plan would help researchers make progress. “I think we’re going to do some really exciting research.” 

Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the studies and other proposals in the government plan have good prospects to succeed — despite complaints from many in the region that the strategy is inadequate because it doesn’t close shipping locks that could open a carp pathway to the lake.
–BusinessWeek

 Groundwater use threatens Anoka County lakes
Anoka County lake levels would drastically drop and many wetlands and streams would dry up if a Metropolitan Council study’s predictions come to fruition.

Rainfall is the short-term culprit in lakes, streams and wetlands drying up, but the long-term threat is the over-pumping of groundwater, said Jamie Schurbon, a water resource specialist for the Anoka Conservation District.

A Metropolitan Council study predicts that groundwater pumping will lead to greater drops in surface water depths in Anoka County than in other areas of the Twin Cities. Depths in many areas of the county could drop one to five feet by 2030 and three to 10 feet by 2050.

“We’re building to that point where if everything is as it is indicated now, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions at a local level about growth and development,” Schurbon said.
–The Coon Rapids Herald

Funding for trails becomes an issue
Minnesota lawmakers clearly like state hiking and biking trails. After all, they’ve authorized almost 2,600 miles of them.

 But with only half of those trails developed so far, it’s just as clear they haven’t been as eager to pay for them. 

That inaction has produced a $440 million funding gap — the difference between the price tags of what they’ve authorized and the money they’ve directed to them. Under a recent scenario that anticipates $20 million in trails-related bonding each two-year budget cycle, it will take until 2044 just to develop the ones already in the pipeline. 

“There’s a significant backlog,” conceded Forrest Boe, deputy director of the Parks and Trails Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  “That says a couple of things. Some of them will have to wait a while. The Legislature is taking a look at that, and they need to decide whether to make greater investments to speed up the process or to continue as they have.”
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Counties, Chamber oppose MPCA landfill rules
Lobbyists at the Capitol are kicking back against new permitting and financial assurance rules for landfills that were recently released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA). And some state legislators are likewise questioning whether the rules reflect the original legislative intent of the law that spawned the new rules. 

Business and municipal interests such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Minnesota Counties are concerned that new draft rules released by PCA on Nov. 30 could ultimately close landfills in the state. 

Mike Robertson, a lobbyist for the Chamber, testified in front of the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee that a coalition of 40 counties and private landfill operators are worried that new permitting rules and financial assurance requirements (designed to ensure that operators could pay for any environmental clean-up needed at a later date) for existing and new landfills would put many such operations out of business.
–Politics in Minnesota 

Wisconsin considers permit process changes
Two proposed general permits covering livestock operations of different sizes will be the topic of public hearings statewide in March and April, and a public comment period through April 23. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the state is proposing to issue standardized water protection permits known as ‘general permits’ instead of writing the permits individually as a way to free up time for compliance and inspections of large-scale livestock operations.

“Wisconsin has among the most rigorous permitting standards in the nation right now, and our proposed general permits have the same requirements,” says Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources runoff management section. “But we are the last state to use individual permits for large-scale livestock operations.”

Stevenson says since the requirements for many of these large operations are the same, there is limited need for DNR staff to draft each permit individually. Switching to standardized general permits would allow DNR staff to spend more time in the field inspecting those livestock operations to make sure they are following requirements for manure storage, handling, spreading, and other activities.
–Wisconsin Ag Connection

North Dakota pesticide use up 30 percent in 4 years
Acres treated with pesticides across the state set a new record in 2008 by jumping more than 10 million acres, according to a recently released study. 

Conducted by North Dakota State University in collaboration with the state’s agricultural statistics office, “Pesticide Use and Pest Management Practices in North Dakota 2008” revealed that pesticide-treated acres jumped nearly 30 percent, from 22.5 million acres in 2004 to 32.6 million acres in 2008, the highest recorded figure since the study began in 1978. 

Between 1978 and 2004, pesticide-treated acres fluctuated between 16 million and 22.5 million acres. 

“With this study we try to demonstrate a reduction of pesticide use because we want to use more biological management practices, so when you see a big increase like this you really wonder,” said Marcia McMullen, a plant pathologist at NDSU who helped with the study.
–The Minot Daily News

 Guelph, Ont., to study grey water use
The city has received more than $70,000 in funding to study the feasibility of recycling grey water for residential toilet flushing.

 The funding comes from the Green Municipal Fund, administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

 “Canada-wide we’re the only community with this type of grey water recycling program, so it’s really quite exciting,” Wayne Galliher, the city’s water conservation project manager, said. 

A pilot project to test whether reusing grey water is feasible began about a year ago. Fourteen homes have reuse systems installed, and the city would like another 16 homeowners to sign on.
–guelphmercury.com

Climate change and ducks; copper-nickel mining

February 8, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts 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.

Global warming bodes ill for ducks
The loss of wetlands in the prairie pothole region of central North America due to a warmer and drier climate will negatively affect millions of waterfowl that depend on the region for food, shelter and raising young, according to research published in the journal BioScience.

The new research shows that the region appears to be much more sensitive to climate warming and drying than previously thought. 

“The impact to the millions of wetlands that attract countless ducks to these breeding grounds in spring makes it difficult to imagine how to maintain today’s level of waterfowl populations in altered climate conditions,” said Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and one of the report authors. “Parents may not have time to raise their young to where they can fly because of wetlands drying up too quickly in the warming climate of the future,” he added. 

A new wetland model developed by the authors to understand the impacts of climate change on wetlands in the prairie pothole region projected major reductions in water volume, shortening of the time water remains in wetlands and changes to wetland vegetation dynamics in this 800,000-square kilometer region in the United States (North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Iowa) and Canada.
–USGS News Release 

Climatologist mostly cleared of misconduct
An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said. 

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units. 

While the Pennsylvania State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.
–The New York Times 

Copper-nickel mine draws flood of comments
More than 3,500 comments in 45 days. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has received a mini tidal wave of letters, e-mails and oral comments about a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. It’s not a surprise, since everything about the $600 million PolyMet project is big.

“This is certainly an extraordinary level of comments,” said Stuart Arkley, the project’s environmental study manager. “Normally a couple hundred might be considered a lot.” 

The comment period ended for the lengthy environmental impact study for the PolyMet mining and ore processing project near Hoyt Lakes. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal partner with the DNR in preparing the study, which began nearly four years ago.
–The Star Tribune 

Court upholds New York’s ballast rule
A New York State appeals court has dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s new ballast water requirements, intended to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. In a ruling, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the authority of states to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards. 

Ballast water is taken on by cargo ships to compensate for changes in the ship’s weight as cargo is loaded or unloaded, and as fuel and supplies are consumed. 

When a ship takes on ballast water, organisms native to that water are also taken on board. When that ballast water is discharged into another body of water, those organisms are released, often harming the native species of the new ecosystem.
–Environmental News Service

Georgia governor calls for water conservation
Georgians will be called to a new “culture of conservation” under water legislation outlined by Gov. Sonny Perdue, struggling in the twilight of his term to find a solution to the long-running water dispute with neighboring Florida and Alabama.

At a news conference, Perdue called the legislation “a diverse and comprehensive package,” and then went on to warn that it will require a brand new mindset for many Georgians:

“Where it makes sense, we’re going to ask Georgians to make commitments that we have never asked of them before, and at other points, we will launch incentive-based efforts to encourage creativity and innovation involving our very diverse bill will require efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction statewide.
–The Southern Political Report

U.S. knew of mothballed ships’ toxic threat
The U.S. Maritime Administration knew in 1997 that paint falling off its obsolete ships anchored in Suisun Bay could cause toxic pollution, yet took no action for more than a decade while denying a problem existed, according to federal documents. 

Cleanup was called “essential” in a 1997 memo that stated, “Environmental precautions must be recognized to the fullest extent.” 

“Exfoliating paint on (Maritime Administration) ships is an issue that must be addressed,” the August 1997 internal memo states. “The discharge of lead and tributyltin, commonly found in marine paints, are prohibited by federal, state and local environmental regulations … there may be some impacts on water and biotic resources.” 

But the Maritime Administration undertook no cleanup as the so-called Mothball Fleet anchored off Benicia continued to deteriorate for another decade. A 2007 study — launched after a series of articles in the Contra Costa Times that questioned the fleet’s condition — found that 21 tons of paint flakes laden with lead and other toxic metals had fallen into local waters and that 66 more tons remained on the vessels.
–The Contra Costa Times

Fish disease, drug disposal and an ethanol fine

February 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cliffs spokesperson had no comment on the court filing. 

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

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

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

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

Chicago plots its future water supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merriam calls for ‘cultural shift’ on water

January 25, 2010

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

Merriam calls for ‘cultural shift’ on water 
Most Minnesotans no longer think it is OK to smoke in the office or in other places where their secondhand smoke will affect non-smokers. And most Minnesotans now accept the minor inconvenience of buckling up their seatbelts as a small price to pay for the safety the belts provide.

In a commentary published by Minnpost.com, an on-line news source, Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam reflects on the “cultural shift” he says has occurred in recent decades in the way people view smoking and seatbelt use.

Merriam says he and the Freshwater Society are working to bring about a similar cultural shift in attitudes toward water protection and conservation.

 He concludes that – as with smoking restrictions and requirements for seatbelt use – we eventually will need more government regulation to enforce that protection and conservation of water resources. 

MPCA won’t renew controversial dairy’s permit
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it won’t re-issue a permit for the Excel Dairy farm in northwestern Minnesota, in effect shutting it down, but that doesn’t mean the foul-smelling and overflowing manure pits will be cleaned up anytime soon.

 The state has been unable to get the farm, near Thief River Falls, to obey state law, for three years. Excel Dairy has been in violation of state law almost from the moment it opened in 2005.

The operators had more cows in the barn than they should have, they built a feed pad without permission, and they tried methods of treating manure that weren’t approved. They also ignored orders to repair and empty manure ponds and failed to cover manure ponds that can hold 33 million gallons of manure.

Neighbors for more than a mile around have been enduring extremely high levels of hydrogen sulfide. That’s the rotten egg smell no one likes to encounter.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Wisconsin approves dairy expansion
A Wisconsin dairy farm has been given permission to double its herd despite environmentalists’ concerns that manure might poison groundwater supplies.

The Department of Natural Resources approved a permit by Fon du Lac County’s Rosendale Dairy to expand its herd from 4,000 to 8,000 cows, making it Wisconsin’s largest dairy operation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Rosendale told the newspaper the expansion represents an investment of more than $70 million.

But an attorney for the environmental group Clean Wisconsin sees the approval of Rosendale’s expansion as a step toward more large dairy farms, the Journal Sentinel said.
–United Press International

 Amendment money not raided for deficit, group says
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature kept faith with voters last year when they approved the first round of conservation funding under the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, a review by a key conservation group says.

 In a report, Conservation Minnesota said Pawlenty and legislators followed a constitutional requirement that amendment funds raised by a sales-tax increase not be used as a substitute for general-fund spending.

 The amendment approved by voters in 2008 said, in part, that “money under this section must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.”

 Still, with the governor and lawmakers looking to solve a projected $4.6 billion budget deficit last session, environmental and outdoors interests feared they might disproportionately cut spending for such places as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources. 

The report, however, said cuts to general-fund spending at the MPCA and the DNR were “roughly proportionate to those of the overall state budget.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ramsey looks to soil to save water
Quality dirt has become a consuming issue in Ramsey in recent years. It’s drawn the attention of city commissions, staff and elected leaders, who have mulled over what kind of topsoil to require in new developments. The goal?  To save water by reducing the need for lawn and garden irrigation on lots where new homes or buildings go up.

 Black dirt containing organic material holds water so that it doesn’t drain as quickly through Ramsey’s sandy soil, which is part of the underlying Anoka Sand Plain. The city erected a new water tower last year and doesn’t want to build another anytime soon.
— The Star Tribune

Last decade sets warmth record, NASA says
The decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record, new surface temperature figures released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show.

The agency also found that 2009 was the second warmest year since 1880, when modern temperature measurement began. The warmest year was 2005. The other hottest recorded years have all occurred since 1998, NASA said.

James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that global temperatures varied because of changes in ocean heating and cooling cycles. “When we average temperature over 5 or 10 years to minimize that variability,” said Dr. Hansen, one of the world’s leading climatologists, “we find global warming is continuing unabated.”
–The New York Times

U.N. climate change panel admits error
For many Indians, the most powerful and urgent reason to battle global warming arose from a report warning that the Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.

But that prediction was an error, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which authored the report, said.

Speaking publicly on the issue for the first time ,Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning panel, said the mistake occurred because rigorous procedures for scientific review were not followed. He promised a more robust research system in the future. 

But he said the blunder should not detract from a sense of urgency over the need for action on a crisis that threatens the entire planet. “I hope that people around the world are not going to be distracted by this error. Climate change is not only limited to what will happen to the Himalayan glaciers,” he said.
–The Washington Post 

Signs of life in the Minnesota River
The Minnesota River contains less phosphorus, a whole lot more fish, less sediment and is seeing a rebound in the otter population.

But nitrate levels haven’t improved much, if at all, mussel populations are just holding steady, and the amount of prairie land continues to dwindle.

Those are some of the conclusions in a first-ever trends report recently completed by the Water Resources Center, Minnesota State University and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Scott Kudelka of the Water Resources Center said they pulled various data and research together to get a big picture of what’s happening in the 335-mile-long river. To read the full report, click here.

–The Mankato Free Press 

Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan
Genetic material from the Asian carp, a voracious invasive species long feared to be nearing the Great Lakes,  has been identified for the first time at a harbor within Lake Michigan, near the Illinois-Indiana border, ecologists and federal officials said. 

A second DNA match was found in a river in Illinois within a half-mile of the lake, according to scientists at the University of Notre Dame who tested water samples and provided the results to officials. 

Experts said the most recent findings, from Calumet Harbor and the Calumet River, could mean that the carp has found its way beyond an elaborate barrier system built at the cost of millions of dollars to prevent the fish’s access to the Great Lakes and its delicate ecosystem, where it has no natural competitors and would threaten the life of native fish populations.
–The New York Times

Silverfin (a.k.a. Asian carp) coming to a store near you
Building off a state-developed marketing plan, a group of Louisiana-based companies has started a joint venture that will put Asian carp on retail shelves within weeks.

The fish are being marketed as silverfin, the name it was given in a marketing plan developed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The agency is promoting recreational and commercial applications of an invasive fish that has caused huge problems for boaters in northern states.

Rather than poisoning the fish to get rid of them like northern states have done, wildlife officials are opting to make them an appetizing meal.
–National Public Radio

Volunteers worth $8.8 million to Minnesota DNR
More than 32,000 citizens donated services valued at $8.8 million during 2009 to assist the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with a variety of projects and programs. That’s the equivalent of an extra 209 full-time staff. 

DNR managers, professionals and technicians work alongside volunteers to help manage the state’s diverse natural resources. 

“We’re fortunate to have so many dedicated Minnesotans who are willing to donate their time and talents for conservation projects,” said Renée Vail, DNR volunteer programs administrator. “We’re extremely grateful for their efforts. Many of our projects would not be possible without their help.” 

Volunteer positions can range from specialist jobs requiring extensive skill and experience to work requiring little or no previous experience.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Florida cold snap saps groundwater
An uneasy truce could be struck in the impending groundwater rift between agitated Plant City area residents whose wells have run dry and the strawberry farmers who sucked the water out of the ground to keep their crops from freezing during this month’s unusually long cold spell.

 Over the past week, about 400 small, private wells around the strawberry fields of Plant City have dried up. 

Some residents have been forced to move from their homes; others have resorted to running hoses to neighbors’ homes for drinking water. Families are showing up at fire stations for water rations. One woman has had to carry water for her horses.

 Anger is growing among some of the residents, even though strawberry farmers must pay for new wells or well repairs under their water-use permit with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

 Still, the inconvenience of living without running water is irking people, who have accused big growers of ignoring their neighbors to make a profit. Growers have said they also stand to lose money after the unusually long freeze and had no other choice but to run sprinklers all night to save their crops.
–The Tampa Tribune 

Maryland chicken farm resists testing
A month after environmental groups alleged that an Eastern Shore chicken farm was polluting a Chesapeake Bay tributary, state regulators have yet to test the fouled waterway or the pile of sewage sludge said to be contaminating it, officials have acknowledged.

Robert M. Summers, deputy secretary of the environment, said the owner of the farm near Berlin has refused to allow inspectors to take samples of the pile or of the water in a drainage ditch running through his property. Summers said the department had mailed the farmer a letter Friday and warned that the state would seek a search warrant if he did not permit sampling.

The disclosure that no testing has been done on the farm comes after a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment told reporters more than two weeks ago that inspectors had collected samples and that most of the sludge pile had been removed to a local landfill. Dawn Stoltzfus, the spokeswoman, confirmed last week that both statements were in error after the environmental groups alleged the department had given out inaccurate information.
–The Baltimore Sun

Radioactive water found at Vermont nuke plant
A day after contaminated water was found in a test well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, company officials announced finding wastewater containing high levels of radioactivity, news outlets are reporting.

The water, reportedly about 100 gallons, was contaminated with radioactive tritium at a concentration of about 2 million picocuries per liter, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the Brattleboro Reformer. That’s about 100 times the allowable federal level for drinking water and 70 times the standard for groundwater.
–USA Today

Climate change, endocrine disruptors in the news

November 30, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety.

Obama to promise greenhouse gas reduction
President Obama will travel to Copenhagen at the start of the United Nations conference on climate change on Dec. 9 just before flying to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama, who had not previously committed to making an appearance at the climate conference, had been under considerable pressure from other world leaders and environmental advocates to make the trip as a statement of American seriousness about the climate change negotiations.

 Mr. Obama will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. The administration has resisted until now delivering a firm pledge on emissions reductions.
–The New York Times

 Indonesian peat lands spew CO2
From the air, the Kampar Peninsula in Indonesia stretches for mile after mile in dense scrub and trees. One of the world’s largest peat swamp forests, it is also one of its biggest vaults of carbon dioxide, a source of potentially lucrative currency as world governments struggle to hammer out a global climate treat. The vault, though, is leaking.

 Canals — used legally and illegally — extend from surrounding rivers nearly into the peninsula’s impenetrable core. By slowly draining and drying the peat land, they are releasing carbon dioxide, contributing to making Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.
–The New York Times

Root and Sauk watersheds to get funding
The watersheds of the Sauk River in Central Minnesota and the Root River in the southeastern part of the state are among 41 watersheds in 12 states that have been selected to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the watersheds – 42 million acres in all — that will be the first targets of a $320 million federal program to improve the Mississippi. 

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was announced on Sept. 24, will provide U.S. Department of Agriculture financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The program will help farmers put in place conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. 

Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Mississippi basin — while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. 

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_overview.html. 

Water pollution underestimated, researchers say
Inaccuracies in published data underestimate the amount of organic pollutants in raw sewage, providing flawed information for environmental policy makers, claim US scientists.  

High quality analysis of raw sewage is crucial to measure pollutants in the environment and the efficiency of wastewater treatments plants. Suspended solids in sewage can block analytical apparatus and complicate analysis so samples are commonly filtered before analysis. But, appropriate corrections for the filtration step are not always made say Rolf Halden and Randhir Deo at Arizona State University, Tempe. 

Some hydrophobic organic compounds adsorb onto these solid filters and disappear from the sample, so the analysis of the resulting aqueous phase does not show the total amount that was present before filtering, explains Halden.  

Halden and Deo studied reported data for 33 organic compounds in the aqueous phase and found that between 15-60% of some compounds’ mass was adsorbed onto the suspended solids, which led to estimates of organic pollutants being 50% lower than actually present.
–Highlights in Chemical Science

Endocrine-disruptors found in pristine lakes
Minnesota scientists say it appears endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals are found in even the most pristine lakes in the state.

 Researchers say they’re not sure why the chemical compounds are so widespread, but they say more research is needed to better understand the potential impact on wildlife and humans. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sampled a dozen lakes and four rivers across the state. Some of the samples came from water close to cities and others were from lakes in remote northern forests.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Endocrine-disruptors alter gender of fish
Something strange is happening to the fish in America’s rivers, lakes and ponds. Chemical pollution seems to be disrupting their hormones, blurring the line between male and female.

And as CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, those fish swim where millions get their drinking water.
–CBS Evening News

 Answers come slowly in endocrine research
What’s the problem with the Potomac River — and could whatever it is spell problems for those of us who drink its water? 

In 2003, scientists discovered something startling in the Potomac, from which at least 3 million Washington area residents get their drinking water: Male fish were growing eggs. But six years later, a government-led research effort still hasn’t answered those two questions. Scientists say they still aren’t sure which pollutants are altering the fish, or whether the discovery poses any threat to people’s health.
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin groups threat to sue EPA over nutrients
The threat of a potential lawsuit could set the stage for new regulations of a pair of pollutants that are responsible for algae blooms and poor drinking water. 

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on of their s intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution – phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that it would start to regulate the pollutants.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  

Sea level rise could cost $28 trillion
A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

 The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called “port mega-cities,” urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present. 

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.
–CNN

MPCA seeks comments on water quality
A public comment period on a water-quality report for six lakes in Washington and Chisago counties began Nov. 23 and continues through Dec. 23, 2009.  The Total Maximum Daily Load report addresses water pollution caused by excessive nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. 

All six lakes are in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District near the cities of Wyoming and Forest Lake.  The lakes include Comfort, Birch, Bone, Moody, School, Shields and Little Comfort.  Water-quality monitoring of these lakes has shown that their nutrient levels frequently exceed state standards. 

The Six Lakes report is available on the Web at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/project-clflwd.html or at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N.  For more information and to submit comments, contact Christopher Klucas, MPCA Project Manager, at 651-757-2498 or christopher.klucas@state.mn.us.
–MPCA news release

 EPA issues rules on construction runoff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ssued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. The rule takes effect in February 2010 and will be phased in over four years.

The final rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges. For information, go to http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/guide/construction.
–EPA news release