Posts Tagged ‘gray water’

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

 

Manure, local food and Asian carp

October 26, 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 clean-up effort lags in Minnesota
Thousands of small farms may still be allowing animal manure to contaminate waters across Minnesota, a decade after a state environmental program was created to help curtail the hazardous practice.

The cleanup effort, which had a deadline of Oct. 1, has languished because of funding shortages, oversight problems by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the inability to get more farmers to participate. MPCA officials said last week they don’t know how many farms still need fixing. Two years ago, the last time they checked, more than 3,000 farms in the state did. 

At stake is the health of many Minnesota lakes and streams, where manure from so-called animal feedlots can carry disease-causing bacteria that make waters unsafe for swimmers, anglers and others. Untreated waste can also kill fish, harm aquatic plants, and create a chain of environmental problems.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin DNR suspects manure in fish kill
Investigators with the state Department of Natural Resources and Dane County say it is likely that a fish kill in late September on the Sugar River was caused by manure runoff.

But Dave Wood, a DNR conservation warden, said investigators have not been able to pinpoint the origin of the manure. 

“We found out there was a lot of liquid manure being spread in the upper watershed then,” Wood said. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department also worked on the investigation. 

The fish kill probably happened between Sept. 23 and Sept. 26 and killed more than 50 fish, including some trophy-sized brown trout. The stretch of river where the fish died is near Riley; the fish were found along a section of river running roughly from the intersections of highways P and S southeast to Highway PD.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

 Horner pledges to make water quality a priority
Calling conservation of natural resources a defining issue for Minnesotans, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner pledged to make restoring water quality a top priority if he is elected governor.

 Standing in warm autumn sunlight at St. Paul’s Como Park, Horner said his first goal is “reversing degradation to our lakes, streams and waterways and groundwater.”

With the state facing a projected $5.8 billion budget deficit, Horner acknowledged that he wouldn’t be able to significantly increase funding for natural resources in the next two years, but said, “Let’s not take any more money away.”

 He would borrow money through the sale of bonds to purchase conservation reserve easements along farm drainage ditches to protect water quality and offer low-interest loans to small cities to upgrade their sewage-treatment facilities.

To properly staff the front lines in protecting lakes from invasive species and pollution, Horner also pledged to hire a “full complement” of conservation officers. Currently, 10 percent of those jobs are vacant, he said. 

“That can’t be sacrificed to a budget deficit,” he said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Wal-Mart announces focus on local food
The local-and-sustainable food movement has spread to the nation’s largest retailer.

Wal-Mart Stores announced a program that focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.

Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business, but they questioned how “local” a $405 billion company with two million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.
–The New York Times

Asian carp may lead to re-engineering of Chicago waterways
The battle over closing Chicago-area outlets into Lake Michigan is not only about preventing Asian carp from decimating the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry, experts said. It has also prompted efforts to re-engineer a century-old waterway system that Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, has compared to “having left Michigan Avenue a dirt road while we built up a modern city around it.”

Michigan and four other states have filed suit in federal court demanding the closure of locks that connect rivers and channels to the lake.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has countered that Asian carp pose no imminent ecological threat and shutting the locks would mean billions in losses for tour boats, shipping and other industries.

Urban planners and environmental groups said there is another way to deal with the Asian carp threat: separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, which were joined a century ago by the man-made reversal of the Chicago River and the building of canals.

Separation could also involve overhauling Chicago’s outdated wastewater-treatment system and reduce the city’s controversial diversion of two billion gallons of water a day out of Lake Michigan into the Chicago River.
–The Chicago News Cooperative

EPA plays catch-up on Florida pollution
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is supposed to enforce the nation’s rules on water pollution, has suffered a pair of black eyes from two recent court cases in Florida.

In both cases, the agency has been forced to agree it has done a poor job of stopping pollution in Florida. In both, the EPA has now pledged to impose tougher standards to clean up the mess. In both, industry officials and politicians are strongly objecting to the EPA’s crackdown because the fix will cost so much money.

“Had they been doing their job all along, we wouldn’t be in this boat,” said Paul Schweip, an attorney for Friends of the Everglades, one of the organizations that sued over pollution problems.

Both cases are causing the agency major headaches.
–The St. Petersburg Times

Seattle U. eliminates plastic water bottles
Out with plastic at Seattle University. In with stainless steel water bottles.

The university is the sixth in the nation — and the first in Washington state — to eliminate plastic water bottles from cafeterias, stores and vending machines. Instead, students are encouraged to purchase a reusable water bottle for $9.99.

SU installed more than 30 water fountains with bottle fillers around campus, preparing to eliminate disposable bottles as part of a “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign.

A portion of the proceeds from reusable water bottles will be donated to Engineers Without Borders.

“For every bottle sold, four Haitians will drink clean water for ten years from the water treatment systems bought and maintained by Engineers Without Borders,” SU officials wrote.
–The Seattle Post Intelligencer

Manitoba considers ‘grey water’ rules
Attic insulation. Check

Last night’s bathtub water in the toilet. Huh?

Yup, the province is on the cusp of updating the building code to include grey water collection systems that use bathtub and shower water in toilet systems instead of freshwater as clean as your drinking water.

“We do think it’s a pretty innovative way to reduce water consumption, to be easier on our municipal water infrastructure,” Labour Minister Jennifer Howard said in outlining changes to Manitoba’s new building and plumbing codes.

“Right now we flush our toilets with drinkable water. The same water that comes out of your tap to drink is the water we flush down the toilet. Lots of countries in the world have a different view of that. They have the ability to use, you do your dishes, you use that water to flush the toilet.”

Howard said the province will approve in-home grey water collection systems if they meet Canadian Standards Association requirements, which are expected to be released in December.
–The Winnipeg Free Press

Don’t miss lecture on pollution-birth defects

September 7, 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.

Register now for lecture on pollution and birth defects
Less than two weeks remain to register to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist.

Guillette’s lecture – at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota – is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

Guillette, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, spent 25 years studying sexually stunted alligators living in polluted lakes in Florida.

His lecture, titled “Contaminants, Water and Our Health: New Lessons from Wildlife,” will deal with links between water pollution and birth defects – in animals and in humans. For information, and to register,  go to www.freshwater.org. To read an interview with Guillette, published in the Freshwater Society’s September newsletter, click here.

Asian carp case back in court
The 30-pound silver carp that leapt from the water and knocked a kayaker out of a 340-mile race down the Missouri River is a reminder of what’s at stake when the Asian carp debate returns to court in Chicago.

 Five Great Lakes states are suing the federal government to force closing of Chicago-area shipping locks as a last-ditch effort to keep the invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. But closing locks in the waterway system, even for a short time, could deal a crippling blow to the shipping and boating industries that help drive Illinois’ economy, business leaders say.

 This case “is a tremendous risk for the city of Chicago and the region’s economy, traffic congestion and flood control,” said Jim Farrell, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to keep the locks open. “This irresponsible filing has very serious consequences.” 

The anticipated three-day legal showdown was to begin Sept. 7  in federal court as attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota try to persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Dow that Asian carp pose such a grave threat to the Great Lakes that nothing short of an emergency shutdown of the system will stop them.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Coon Rapids dam eyed as carp barrier
Can the 97-year-old Coon Rapids dam over the Mississippi River serve as Minnesota’s barrier to the northward migration of unwanted fish, including the notorious Asian carp?

Stanley Consultants, an international firm with an office in Wayzata, has a $164,087 contract with Three Rivers Park District to answer that question by the first of next year.

The west-suburban park district, which owns and operates the dam, will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from a $500,000 fund set up by the Legislature to create a fish barrier on the Mississippi.

 Although the dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the Ford Dam in St. Paul and the Hastings Dam are taller and therefore better blocks to the invasive fish, they all have locks that allow fish to move upstream with boats, said Luke Skinner, DNR supervisor of the state’s invasive species program. “Coon Rapids dam is the first dam on the river that does not have a lock.”
–The Star Tribune

GE exec calls low prices for water ‘wacky’
Why doesn’t water get more attention? 

According to Jeff Fulgham, it’s because it’s available on demand virtually everywhere — from taps to toilets to showers and sinks.

 But as the newly-appointed chief sustainability officer of GE Power and Water — as well as the division’s Ecomagination leader — Fulgham knows better. The reality is that the world is quickly running out of water — and if we don’t do anything about it, what was once ubiquitous will become scarce in some of the world’s most populous areas.
–Smart Planet

 U.S. energy use dipped in 2009
A bright spot in the nation’s flickering economy is that Americans used less energy last year than in 2008, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently published its findings online.

 “Part of the reason is [that] the whole economy shrank,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at Livermore who calculated that overall energy use in the country dropped from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008 to 94.6 quadrillion in 2009. “People are doing less stuff overall, using less oil, saving money.”

 Another reason, Simon added, is that the residential, industrial, commercial and transportation sectors of the economy are using more products that are energy-efficient. 

“People put in [compact fluorescent light bulbs],” Simon said, “and they actually use less electricity, and that change percolates all the way through the energy system.” 

The data also revealed that people are increasingly relying on hydropower, geothermal and wind energy, thereby cutting their use of coal, natural gas and petroleum.
–The Washington Post 

Spotted owls continue to decline
Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren’t certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them. 

The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps. 

Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington State, they’re declining at 6 percent to 7 percent a year. 

While that may seem like a small number, it adds up, said Eric Forsman, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., who’s studied the owl since 1968. 

The fight over the owl, however, perhaps the fiercest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, was always about more than just protecting a surprisingly friendly, football-sized bird with dark feathers, dark eyes and white spots.
–McLatchy News Service

USGS research focuses on road salt toxicity
The use of salt to deice pavement can leave urban streams toxic to aquatic life, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study on the influence of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities, with a special focus on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

More than half of the Milwaukee streams included in this study had samples that were toxic during winter deicing. In eastern and southern Wisconsin, all streams studied had potentially toxic chloride concentrations during winter, with lingering effects into the summer at some streams. Nationally, samples from fifty-five percent of streams studied in 13 northern cities were potentially toxic; twenty-five percent of the streams had samples that exceeded acute water quality criteria. 

Toxicity was measured by direct testing of organisms in samples during the local study component; in the regional and the national study components, observed chloride levels were used to assess potential toxicity.

“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” said Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. “The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” said Corsi, who led the study.
–US Geological Survey News Release

First, the good news: Potomac shows improvement
The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests. Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study. 

Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK. 

“Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area,” said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Now, the bad news: Coastal ‘dead zones’ increase
A report issued by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend. The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed—have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960, when data started to be collected.

 The report was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had significant inputs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It provides a comprehensive list of the more than 300 U.S. coastal water bodies affected by hypoxia and, in eight case studies, highlights a range of representative ecosystems affected by hypoxia.

 The full release and report can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/oceans.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Big banks grow leery of environmental risks
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.

 For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

 In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
–The New York Times

 EPA declines to ban lead bullets
The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a request that it ban lead bullets, saying it does not have the legal authority to do so. The American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for the ban. The Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the petition was made, exempts ammunition from its controls. The agency will, however, seek comment on the merit of a ban on lead fishing sinkers. Adam Keats, a senior counsel for the center, said in a news release that “the E.P.A. has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition.”
–The New York Times

 San Francisco proposes effluent re-use
It doesn’t sound like a radical idea: Watering Golden Gate Park’s meadows and bowers with treated wastewater.

But for a city that for 75 years has relied on a pristine water supply from the Sierra Nevada, it is. 

San Francisco’s water utility will unveil a proposal for the city’s first large-scale water recycling project, an arc-shaped facility near Ocean Beach that would filter and disinfect 2 million gallons of sewer and storm water each day for use on 1,000 acres of San Francisco land. 

The $152 million Westside Recycled Water Project would be used to water Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

MPCA seeks comment on Como Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Como Lake in St. Paul. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, focuses on pollution caused by excess nutrients. A public comment period began Aug. 30 and continues through Sept. 29. 

The Como Lake watershed is located in the north-central portion of the Capitol Region Watershed District and is within the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The 69-acre lake is a popular recreational water body used for fishing, boating and aesthetic viewing. 

The lake was placed on the state’s impaired waters list because of excess nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and plants, it is considered a pollutant when it stimulates excessive growth of algae or aquatic plants. 

The TMDL study indicated that the overall phosphorus load to Como Lake will need to be reduced by 60 percent in order to meet water quality standards. 

After receiving public comments, the MPCA will revise the draft Como Lake TMDL report and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Following approval, a plan will be developed to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake. 

The Como Lake TMDL draft report is available on the Web at, or at the MPCA St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments may be submitted to Brooke Asleson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Asleson at 651-757-2205.
–MPCA News Release

Abandoned turtles threaten LA waters
When a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department task force followed a tip about illegal fireworks in San Pedro on the fourth of July, a stash of 10,000 live baby turtles was the last thing they expected to find.

 “There were about 500 turtles in each box – and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford, the adoption chairwoman of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s Foothill chapter.

 Along with other members, Crawford took in thousands of the “filthy” and sick animals – red-eared slider turtles reportedly smuggled cross-country from their native Louisiana. Despite antibiotics, more than half died. The rest were adopted out, Crawford said.

In an effort to quell the spread of salmonella to children, federal law has prohibited the sale of any turtle under four inches since 1975. But authorities say that hasn’t slowed black-market sales of the ever-popular red-eared sliders.
–The Pasadena Star-News

Groundwater contaminants, dioxins, atrazine

May 24, 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.

USGS finds contaminants in 20% of public wells tested
More than 20 percent of untreated water samples from 932 public wells across the nation contained at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

 About 105 million people — or more than one-third of the nation’s population — receive their drinking water from one of the 140,000 public water systems across the United States that rely on groundwater pumped from public wells. 

The USGS study focused primarily on source (untreated) water collected from public wells before treatment or blending rather than the finished (treated) drinking water that water utilities deliver to their customers. 

“By focusing primarily on source-water quality, and by testing for many contaminants that are not regulated in drinking water, this USGS study complements the extensive monitoring of public water systems that is routinely conducted for regulatory and compliance purposes by federal, state and local drinking-water programs,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water. “Findings assist water utility managers and regulators in making decisions about future monitoring needs and drinking-water issues.” 

Findings showed that naturally occurring contaminants, such as radon and arsenic, accounted for about three-quarters of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks in untreated source water. Naturally occurring contaminants are mostly derived from the natural geologic materials that make up the aquifers from which well water is withdrawn. 

Man-made contaminants were also found in untreated water sampled from the public wells, including herbicides, insecticides, solvents, disinfection by-products, nitrate, and gasoline chemicals. Man-made contaminants accounted for about one-quarter of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks, but were detected in 64 percent of the samples, predominantly in samples from unconfined aquifers. 

The USGS also sampled paired source and finished (treated) water from a smaller subset of 94 public wells. Findings showed that many man-made organic contaminants detected in source water generally were detected in finished water at similar concentrations. Organic contaminants detected in both treated and source water typically were detected at concentrations well below human-health benchmarks, however.
–USGS News release

Hand soap dioxins found in Mississippi River
Specific dioxins derived from the antibacterial agent triclosan, used in many hand soaps, deodorants, dishwashing liquids and other consumer products, account for an increasing proportion of total dioxins in Mississippi River sediments, according to University of Minnesota research.

The study appears online in the May 18 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers, from the university’s Institute of Technology (soon to be College of Science and Engineering), found that over the last 30 years, the levels of the four dioxins derived from triclosan have risen by 200 to 300 percent, while levels of all the other dioxins have dropped by 73 to 90 percent.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would study the safety of triclosan, which has been linked to disruptions of hormonal function and may also play a role in the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In papers published in 2003 and 2009, university civil engineering professor William Arnold and his colleague Kristopher McNeill, a former professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry, discovered that triclosan, when exposed to sunlight, generated a specific suite of four dioxins.

In the current study spearheaded by Jeff Buth, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemistry (supervised by Arnold and McNeill), the researchers examined sediment core samples from Lake Pepin, an enlargement of the Mississippi River 60  miles downstream from St. Paul.. The sediment cores, containing a record of pollutant accumulation in the lake for the past 50 years, were analyzed for triclosan, the four dioxins derived from triclosan, and the entire family of dioxin chemicals. The study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of Minnesota, Pace Analytical (Minneapolis), the Science Museum of Minnesota and Virginia Tech.

Triclosan was first added to commercial liquid hand soap in 1987, and by 2001 about 76 percent of commercial liquid hand soaps contained it, researchers say. About 96 percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains, leading to large loads of the chemical in water entering wastewater treatment plants.

The toxicity of the dioxins derived from triclosan currently is not well understood, nor is the extent of their distribution in the environment at large, Arnold says.
–University of Minnesota news release

Atrazine impedes fish spawning, study shows
Atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, has been shown to affect reproduction of fish, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

 “Concentrations of atrazine commonly found in agricultural streams and rivers caused reduced reproduction and spawning, as well as tissue abnormalities in laboratory studies with fish,” said USGS scientist Donald Tillitt, the lead author of the study published in Aquatic Toxicology.

Fathead minnows were exposed to atrazine at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center in Columbia, Mo., and observed for effects on egg production, tissue abnormalities and hormone levels.  Fish were exposed to concentrations ranging from zero to 50 micrograms per liter of atrazine for up to 30 days.  All tested levels of exposure are less than the USEPA Office of Pesticides Aquatic Life Benchmark of 65 micrograms per liter for chronic exposure of fish.  Thus, substantial reproductive effects were observed in this study at concentrations below the USEPA water-quality guideline. 

Study results show that normal reproductive cycling was disrupted by atrazine and fish did not spawn as much or as well when exposed to atrazine.  Researchers found that total egg production was lower in all atrazine-exposed fish, as compared to the non-exposed fish, within 17 to 20 days of exposure.  In addition, atrazine-exposed fish spawned less and there were abnormalities in reproductive tissues of both males and females.
–USGS news release 

 Research Council calls for climate change action
In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation’s leading scientific body declared that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The group, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing the case for a harmful human influence on the global climate as overwhelming and arguing for strong immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world — including the creation of a carbon pricing system.

 Congress requested the reports in 2008. This is the first time the academy has issued specific recommendations on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change. 

One of the reports, “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change,” urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a “reasonable goal.”
–The New York Times

Gulf oil spill imperils sea turtles
It is nesting season here, and just offshore, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle No. 15 circles in the water before dragging herself onto the sand to lay another clutch of eggs.

 The sea turtle, affectionately nicknamed Thelma by a National Park Service employee, has already beaten some terrible odds. Still in the egg, she was airlifted here from Mexico in the years after the 1979 blowout of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and covered the turtles’ primary nesting place.

 Now Thelma and others of her species are being monitored closely by worried scientists as another major oil disaster threatens their habitat. Federal officials said that since April 30, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, they have recorded 156 sea turtle deaths; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys. And though they cannot say for sure that the oil was responsible, the number is far higher than usual for this time of year, the officials said.
–The New York Times 

Nuclear dump proposed in Texas
Texas was all set to be part of an agreement with Vermont to dump nuclear waste in a remote region of the Lone Star state, and for the most part people living near the site were OK with it. 

Now, though, that compact could mushroom to include waste from 36 other states, reinvigorating those who oppose the project to fight harder. 

Environmentalists, geologists, the Texas League of Women Voters and others say the huge dumping ground will pollute groundwater and otherwise wreak havoc with the environment. The company that runs the site contends it’ll be safe and many local residents applaud any expansion as a way to bring more jobs and prosperity to the West Texas scrubland.
–The Associated Press

 Poison targets Asian carp in Chicago
The Little Calumet River became the latest battleground against Asian carp as workers dumped barrels of a deadly fish toxin in a desperate attempt to locate the elusive invasive species in Chicago’s waterways.

“If there are Asian carp here, we should get confirmation of that this week,” John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said during a morning news conference.

State officials targeted a two-mile stretch of the river, about seven miles west of Lake Michigan, because numerous DNA samples have indicated the presence of Asian carp. But no one has yet seen an Asian carp, alive or dead, making this stretch of waterway an important staging area to not only test the validity of the DNA research, but also to gauge how imminent a threat the carp are to the Great Lakes.

Biologists dumped about 2,000 gallons of the organic fish poison Rotenone into the river Thursday and are expected to search for Asian carp over the next several days as dead fish float to the surface. The federal government is picking up the estimated $1.5 million price tag for the effort, which likely will kill thousands of fish and shut down a vital shipping corridor for about a week.
–The Chicago Tribune

 China builds ‘Solar Valley’ to power industry
Uprooting the last traces of rural life on the edge of this northern Chinese city, laborers with chain saws spent a recent morning cutting down trees to make way for a hulking factory. A big red banner trumpeted the future for what used to be farmland: “The Biggest Solar Energy Production Base in the Whole World.”

 Across China, villages are being turned into pollution-belching industrial zones, but nature’s retreat on the outskirts of Dezhou boasts a paradoxical purpose — protecting nature. 

“This is an experiment. It is a big laboratory,” said Huang Ming, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon, who is driving one of China’s boldest efforts to promote, and profit from, green technology.
–The Washington Post 

Invasive kudzu contributes to ozone, research says
Kudzu, a fast-growing and invasive Asian vine introduced in the American South several decades ago, has now blanketed more than 7 million acres of the region, making it sometimes seem more common than the hallmark azaleas, dogwoods and peach trees.

Now there’s evidence that the plant also increases air pollution.

 A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a link between kudzu and the production of ozone, the colorless and odorless gas that is the main component of smog. Ozone can damage lung tissue, increasing inflammation and the risk of asthma attacks.

Some crops and plants are known to contribute to ozone. But this study is the first to establish a connection between an invasive plant and poor air quality, said lead researcher Jonathan Hickman, a fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Manure-powered data centers?
Hey diddle diddle. Guess what the cow has done this time?

 America’s dairy farmers could soon find themselves in the computer business, with the manure from their cows possibly powering the vast data centers of companies like Google and Microsoft. While not immediately intuitive, the idea plays on two trends: the building of computing centers in more rural locales, and dairy farmers’ efforts to deal with cattle waste by turning it into fuel. 

With the right skills, a dairy farmer could rent out land and power to technology companies and recoup an investment in the waste-to-fuel systems within two years, Hewlett-Packard engineers say in a research paper.
–The New York Times

 Penn State researches ‘gray water’ use
Horticulturists at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a low-cost, green method for recycling so-called “gray” water – the stuff from sinks, showers and washing machines that would otherwise go down the drain.

 They filter the water through some plant roots and layers of crushed stone, peat moss and waste materials – making it clean enough to reuse for growing vegetables or flushing toilets – but not for drinking. 

Using gray water is generally not allowed in the United States, but some states have explored the idea. The Penn State researchers hope their data – which show such biofilters can remove almost all suspended solids, nitrogen compounds and other pollutants from gray water – might lead to greater acceptance.
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mail-in drug disposal plan tried
Through a grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging has completed the first statewide mail-back pilot program for managing pharmaceutical waste from consumers.

Studies show that pharmaceuticals are present in our nation’s water bodies and that certain drugs may cause ecological harm. The EPA is currently evaluating the potential risks associated with pharmaceuticals and personal care products on public health and aquatic life.

The program included the use of mailers to return unused and unwanted medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, from households.

Maine Care (Maine’s Medicaid program) established a limit for certain drugs on the quantity that can be filled with an initial prescription. This policy is targeted at reducing the supply and accumulation of unused medications and to prevent pollution. The Maine legislature also recognized the value of the take-back pilot and enacted legislation to continue the program for an additional two years. As part of the EPA grant, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging developed a handbook on the project and collected data on the type and amount of unused medications. 

To view the executive summary of the report, click here.
–EPA New release

Conserving water conserves energy
In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit conference last year, water researchers and advocates held a special meeting to address the fact that water issues were absent from the draft negotiating text.

This was a major oversight, given the amount of energy that is used to collect, treat, distribute and use water and wastewater.

 Just how much energy is consumed has not been measured in most places, but a 2005 energy policy report published by the state of California found that annual water-related energy consumption in the state accounted for 19 percent of electricity consumption, 32 percent natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons, or 333 million liters, of diesel fuel. River Network, an organization that advocates water conservation, has extrapolated that data nationally. In a report last year it calculated that Americans use 520 megawatt-hours, or 13 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, on water.
–The New York Times

Ely mayor fined for BWCA violations
The case of the purloined porta-potty is over.

Ely Mayor Roger Skraba was sentenced Tuesday in Duluth after admitting that he drove his snowmobile in the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) three years ago, broke into a U.S. Forest Service shed and stole and hid a portable toilet.

Federal Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson fined Skraba $3,600. The sentence also includes 40 hours of community service and two years’ probation.

Skraba, 48, was charged on Nov. 9, 2009, and pleaded guilty two months ago to three misdemeanors: removing property belonging to the federal government, entering a protected wilderness area without a proper permit, and possession or use of a motor vehicle or motorized equipment in a protected wilderness area.
–The Star Tribune

Climate change, ‘ugly’ species and catching rain

June 29, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and interntional news articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

U.S. House passes cap-and-trade

 

The House passed legislation intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy. 

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

 The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

 At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.

–The New York Times

Savings species moves past beauty contests

Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

 When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah’s Ark: Save everything.

 But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

 The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

–The Washington Post 

Colorado legalizes catching the rain

For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. 

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

–The New York Times

 Marines expand ‘gray water’ use

Camp Pendleton officials formally dedicated an upgraded water treatment system that includes one of Southern California’s most ambitious uses of recycled water.

 As part of a $48.8-million upgrade, treated wastewater will now be used on landscaping, horse pastures and the base golf course. Plans are to expand the water use to carwashes and to toilet facilities in enlisted quarters.

 The goal is to decrease the amount of fresh water used on the sprawling base and the amount of so-called gray water pumped into the Pacific Ocean.

 The base uses 6,000 to 7,000 acre-feet of water each year, most of it from wells and the San Luis Rey River. An acre-foot of water is enough for two families for a year.

The facilities unveiled have a capacity to provide 1,700 acre-feet a year of treated wastewater to sites throughout the base.

–The Los Angeles Times .

Sewage flows to L. Superior to end by 2016

Untreated sewage in Lake Superior should become a thing of the past in the Duluth area, but not for another seven years.

The city and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) have committed to end sewage overflows by the end of 2016, and to pay $400,000 in fines to state and federal pollution authorities for past violations.

 The overflows typically are caused by backups during heavy rain.

–The Star Tribune

Winona County dairy fined for pollution

Diamond K Dairy in Winona County has agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating state standards for odors and for allowing manure to discharge to a farm pond.  The dairy has taken some correction action with further plans to reduce odors and better control manure.

 The dairy, located in Mount Vernon Township near Altura, consists of six total confinement barns housing up to 1,066 dairy cows and 30 dairy calves.  The facility has three manure-storage basins, a manure solids stacking area, a dead animal composting area, and two feed-storage areas.  Owned by Al Kreidermacher and family members, the facility operates under the names of Diamond K Dairy, Inc. and Diamond K Feeds LLP.

Using continuous air-monitoring equipment, MPCA staff found that the facility violated state levels for hydrogen sulfide several times during 2008.  Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that is partially responsible for foul odors. 

 Also in 2008, the dairy allowed two spills of liquid manure to flow overland to a farm pond on the property.  The pond, classified as a water of the state, connects via a spillway to a trout stream less than a mile away, though none of the spilled manure reached the stream.

 The MPCA posts its enforcement actions at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.

–MPCA news release

 Art sought for exhibit on women and water rights

The University of Minnesota Department of Art and other sponsors are inviting artists to submit work – including postcard-size, mailed-in works – for an exhibit focused on women and the issue of water as a universal human right.

 The exhibit, titled “Women and Water Rights,” will be held Feb. 23 to March 25 at the university’s Regis Center for Art. It will include:

  • A worldwide mail art exhibit on the theme of water and related programs.
  • A juried exhibition of artwork investigating water rights as subject and material. Artists will be women or women/men collaborations from states that form the basin of the Upper Mississippi River — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Lectures.
  • Panel discussions, video screenings and interactive activities.

The deadline for submission of art for the juried exhibit is Nov. 2. The deadline for the mailed art is Jan. 15. Entry guidelines are available at http://womenandwater.net/?cat=3

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae

When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people that some blue-green algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

 Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae can become harmful. Blue-green (cyanobacterial) algal blooms contain toxins or other noxious chemicals that can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing these toxins.

 There is no visual way to predict the toxicity of an algal bloom and distinguishing blue-green algae from other types may be difficult for non-experts. But harmful blooms are sometimes said to look like pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum.

They often smell bad as well. “You don’t have to be an expert to recognize water that might have a harmful algae bloom,” said Steve Heiskary, an MPCA lakes expert. “If it looks bad and smells bad, it’s probably best not to take chances with it.”

–MPCA news release

 Law requires conservation pricing in Twin Cities

When you brush your teeth, do you keep the water running? What about when you shave or do the dishes? That’s the kind of question homeowners may start asking themselves when their water bills arrive.

By the end of this year, all metro water utilities have to start charging for water in a way that encourages conservation. It’s part of a law passed in 2008.

Compared to a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk, water is cheap. In St. Louis Park, it costs less than a fraction of a penny per gallon. That may be why some people use it so freely.

–WCCO-TV

 

Researcher questions mercury health risk

Researchers at the University of North Dakota say there’s new evidence that mercury levels in fish are not as dangerous as previously thought.

 Researchers at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks say the trace mineral selenium is just as important as the amount of mercury in fish.

 Research Scientist Nick Ralston said brain damage from mercury poisoning happens when mercury depletes selenium in the body. He said if fish contain more selenium than mercury, they are safe to eat.

He wants to see a new standard for fish consumption advisories.

 Minnesota’s fish consumption advisory coordinator is not convinced. Patricia McCann said the new research is not definitive and will not affect how Minnesota establishes fish consumption advisories.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Cuyahoga: A river, and a symbol, reborn

The first time Gene Roberts fell into the Cuyahoga River, he worried he might die. The year was 1963, and the river was still an open sewer for industrial waste. Walking home, Mr. Roberts smelled so bad that his friends ran to stay upwind of him.

Recently, Mr. Roberts returned to the river carrying his fly-fishing rod. In 20 minutes, he caught six smallmouth bass. “It’s a miracle,” said Mr. Roberts, 58. “The river has come back to life.”

June 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.

–The New York Times

Chicago skyscraper to go green

Wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels will join the pair of antennas atop the Sears Tower’s staggered rooftops, said building officials who announced that the skyscraper would undergo a $350 million green renovation.

The 5-year project would reduce the tower’s electricity use by 80 percent and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said. Separately, a 50-story, 500-room privately funded luxury hotel with its own green components would be built next to the skyscraper in 3 1/2 to 5 years.

The green project includes the installation of solar panels on the tower’s 90th floor roof to heat water used in the building. Different types of wind turbines will be positioned on the tower’s tiered roofs and tested for efficiency. And between 30,000 and 35,000 square feet of roof gardens will be planted.

–The Chicago Tribune

 Device may protect sea turtles from nets

Fishery managers trying to protect rare sea turtles from dying in fishing nets have chosen a Cape Cod company to build a device that they think can help balance turtle protection with profitable fishing.

 The device is a 7-inch silver cylinder that attaches to fishing nets and records how long they stay underwater. Time is crucial if the nets, dragged behind trawlers, snare a turtle. Federal research indicates that the vast majority of sea turtles survive entanglement, but only if the net is pulled up in less than 50 minutes.

–The New York Times

 Water a key issue in Mideast negotiations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must address the vital issue of water in the West Bank if meaningful peace talks are to take place.

 Israel’s leaders said nothing, but Abbas had touched on one of the most sensitive issues in the seemingly endless negotiations, which have been in abeyance for the last few years, and one on which any expectation of a comprehensive settlement will probably ultimately rest.

Israel’s unilateral control over rivers and aquifers meant scarce water resources were not being shared equitably “as required by international law,” he declared.

–United Press International

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

June 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The move takes effect immediately.

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

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

Mercury, invasive species and gray water

February 23, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

U.S. endorses treaty to limit mercury emissions
The Obama administration reversed years of U.S. policy by calling for a treaty to cut mercury pollution, which it described as the world’s gravest chemical problem.

Some 6,000 tons of mercury enter the environment each year, about a third generated by power stations and coal fires. Much settles into the oceans, where it enters the food chain and is concentrated in predatory fish like tuna.

Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to poisoning by the toxic metal, which can cause birth defects, brain damage and peeling skin.
–The Associated Press

PCA reports increase in mercury in fish
After falling for years, mercury levels in large Minnesota fish such as northern pike and walleye are unexpectedly on the rise, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Those levels declined by 37 percent between 1982 and the mid-1990s but have increased by 15 percent since, the agency said in a study published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The analysis was based on tissue samples from fish collected from 845 state lakes.

“It is something that is affecting all the lakes in Minnesota,” said agency scientist Bruce Monson, who conducted the analysis and characterized the results as surprising.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Controversy dogs Grand Canyon water flow experiment
Nearly a year after the federal government flooded the Grand Canyon in a test of resource restoration, questions persist about whether the agency in charge watered down the experiment to protect power providers and ignored high-level critics of the operation.

The allegations resurfaced with a January memo written by the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, who accused his bosses of disregarding science in preparing for the flood designed to reverse some of the damaging effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the canyon and on the Colorado River. He also described the environmental review of the experiment as one of the worst he’s seen.
–The Arizona Republic

EPA may regulate greenhouse gases
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
–The New York Times

Huge forest easement proposed
More than 187,000 acres of forest and wetlands in north-central Minnesota, an area almost as large as the entire existing state parks system, would be protected permanently under a proposal that will be unveiled at the state Capitol.

If given the thumbs up, it would be largest public-private land conservation project in recent Minnesota history.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Mining clean-up requirements proposed
With a new type of mining being proposed for northern Minnesota, some state legislators want to impose tighter site-cleanup standards and financial assurance requirements.

Legislation introduced Thursday would force companies engaging in sulfide mining to make sure that their sites are clean and nonpolluting when they’re done and that they’ve put enough money aside so taxpayers aren’t on the hook for subsequent problems.

“Our intention is to make this kind of mining safe,” said Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, chief sponsor of the Senate bill. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, is the chief sponsor of a companion bill in the House.
-The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin proposes ballast rules to fight invasive species
Oceangoing ships would have to meet some of the nation’s strictest ballast water quality standards before they could dock in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes ports under regulations state officials proposed.

The plan is designed to block new invasive species from hitching rides in oceangoing vessels’ ballast water and overwhelming native Great Lakes ecosystems. The state Department of Natural Resources estimates more than 180 nonnative fish, plants, insects and organisms have entered the Great Lakes since the 19th century, wrecking food chains, ruining beaches and jeopardizing tourism.
–The Associated Press

Invasive mussels spread west
It took some of America’s best engineers, thousands of laborers and two years of around-the-clock concrete pouring to build the 726-foot-high Hoover Dam back in the 1930s. It took less time than that for the tiny, brainless quagga mussel to bring operators of this modern wonder of the world to their knees.

While federal lawmakers continue to squabble over how to stop overseas ships from dumping unwanted organisms into the world’s largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes’ most vexing invasive-species problem has gone national.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Satellite to track carbon dioxide
Thirty billion tons of carbon dioxide waft into the air from the burning of fossil fuels each year. About half stays in the air. The other half disappears. Where it all goes, nobody quite knows.

With the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a NASA satellite scheduled to be launched on Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, scientists hope to understand better the comings and goings of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas behind the warming of the planet.

The new data could help improve climate models and the understanding of the “carbon sinks,” like oceans and forests, that absorb much of the carbon dioxide.
–The New York Times

Florida water manages eye massive pipe grid
Having less water in Florida could lead to building some really big water lines.

Central Florida utility managers have begun circulating long-term proposals to lay hundreds of miles of interconnected pipelines that could cross nine counties to satisfy growing demand for drinkable water.

About 3 million people now live in that area, which reaches from St. Johns and Putnam counties to Central Florida suburbs west of Orlando.
–Jacksonville News

Volunteers sought to clean up rare fen
After decades of negotiation aided by the Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in spring 2008 bought 106 acres of the 600-acre Seminary Fen wetlands complex, in Chaska and Chanhassen, from the Wetterlin family’s Emerald Ventures LLC. The agency funded the purchase with about $1.3 million of state bonding passed in 2003.

Together with the DNR, the Watershed District is now soliciting Friends of the Fen volunteers to 1) educate and inform the public on this rare natural resource and 2) help clean up and remove invasive species.
–Eden Prairie News

UW-River Falls ‘gray water’ system up and running
UW-River Falls students, faculty and staff may or may not have noticed the blue signs in the University Center bathrooms commenting on the gray water in the toilets. The signs — put up during J-Term — signal the recent success of the rainwater reuse system.

The rainwater reuse system is the first of its kind in a state of Wisconsin building, Mark Gillis, assistant supervisor of facilities maintenance, said.

The rainwater reuse system has begun to run functionally in the last month. The University Center opened two years ago, but the original design of the rainwater reuse system did not work.
–UW-River Falls Student Voice

Michigan asks EPA to take over wetlands regulation
Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposal to hand over protection of Michigan wetlands to the federal government comes as critics in Congress and elsewhere say federal agencies are falling down on the job.

A muddled U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two Michigan cases in 2006 has caused wide confusion about which wetlands the government can regulate. Since then, there has been “drastic deterioration” of wetland protection under the Clean Water Act, a congressional memo said in December.
–The Associated Press

Global water shortage looms
If you’ve read anything about the global water crisis, you’ve likely read a quote from Dr. Peter Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute, and one of the world’s leading water experts. His name has become as ubiquitous as drought itself, which is suddenly making major headlines. A report from the World Economic Forum warned that in only twenty years our civilization may be facing “water bankruptcy”–shortfalls of fresh water so large and pervasive that global food production could crater, meaning that we’d lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined.

But we don’t have to wait twenty years to see what this would look like. Australia, reeling from twelve years of drought in the Murray-Darling River Basin, has seen agriculture grind to a halt, with tens of billions of dollars in losses. The region has been rendered a tinderbox, with the deadliest fires in the country’s history claiming over 160 lives so far. And all this may begin to hit closer to home soon. California’s water manager said that the state is bracing for its worst drought in modern history. Stephen Chu, the new US secretary of energy, warns that the effects of climate change on California’s water supplies could put an end to agriculture in the state by 2100 and imperil major cities.
–The Nation

Drought threatens Tampa Bay area
As the traditionally dry spring approaches, regional water managers are asking the state to impose the toughest watering restrictions in history.

The reservoir that helps supply water to the Tampa Bay area is about a month from being drained, a sign of how dire the problem has become, officials with Tampa Bay Water said.

“We’re in a severe water shortage, and we need to take action,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, chairman of the utility’s board.
–St. Petersburg Times