Posts Tagged ‘groundwater’

Your input is sought on Minnesota environment

November 6, 2012

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

Have your say on water and environmental issues
What do clean water, the economy, energy and the health of our environment all have in common? These topics will be discussed by Minnesotans this month and next at six Citizen Forums around the state.

The forums, free and open to the public, will give Minnesotans an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. State leaders will consider the citizen input next March at a Minnesota Environmental Congress summit, where they will begin to plan a blueprint for Minnesota’s environmental and economic future.

For more information visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. The Minnesota Environmental Congress and the Citizens Forums leading up to it are the result of an executive order issued by Gov. Mark Dayton last year.

To assess Minnesota’s progress toward clean air, water and energy, the Environmental Quality Board is convening the Citizen Forums around the state to engage citizens in constructive dialogue, identify environmental challenges and define a vision for Minnesota’s environmental future.

Here are the locations, dates and times for the six regional Citizens Forums:

• Rochester: Nov. 27, 9:30 a.m. – noon at Wood Lake Meeting Center.

• Bloomington: Nov. 27, 6:30 – 9 p.m. at Normandale Community College.

• Duluth: Nov. 28, 5:30 – 8  p.m. at Lake Superior College.

• Worthington: Dec. 10, 3:30 – 6 p.m. at Worthington High School.

• St. Cloud: Dec. 12, 5:30 – 8 p.m. at Stearns County Service Center.

• Moorhead: Dec. 14, 3 – 5:30 p.m. at Minnesota State University.

For more information about the Citizens Forums and to indicate your intention to attend, visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. If you have questions, call Anna Sherman at 651-201-6607 or email anna.sherman@state.mn.us.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

KARE11 series reports on threats to water
View a series of stories – “Project H2O” – that KARE 11-TV broadcast on Nov. 1:

A geological primer on what’s going on beneath us
Have you ever wondered what’s in the soil and rocks deep beneath your feet? Have you worried that something being put on the land or done to the land will pollute the groundwater beneath it?

The Minnesota Geological Survey has just published a guide to Minnesota geology and groundwater that will answer some of your questions.

The publication, written with a goal of avoiding technical jargon, is intended to explain to local officials, land use managers and planners how the Geological Survey’s county geologic atlases are produced and how they can be used for planning  that protects groundwater. More broadly, the  publication — titled Geologic Atlas User’s Guide: Using Geologic Maps and Databases for Resource Management and Planning  — is a primer on what’s going on in the basement of this house in which we all live.

Report examines nitrogen BMP decision
Read a new report on how and why farmers in two Minnesota watersheds make decisions about the nitrogen fertilizer they apply to their crops.

The report, funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was written by University of Minnesota forest resources professor Mae Davenport and a graduate student, Bjorn Olson.

It was based on in-depth interviews with 30 farmers in the Rush River watershed in Le Sueur and Nicollet counties and the Elm Creek watershed in Martin and Jackson counties. The report is titled  “Nitrogen Use and Determinants of Best Management Practices: A Study of Rush River and Elm Creek Agricultural Producers.”

Northshore Mining fined for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined Northshore Mining Co. in Silver Bay $242,973 for spraying 39,200 gallons of hazardous waste onto its property and improperly sending an equal amount to a nearby water treatment plant. It is the fourth time since September 2010 that the taconite company has been fined for violating Minnesota pollution laws.

The agency found that Northshore Mining sprayed a “corrosive hazardous waste leachate” over its coal-ash landfill to control dust. An additional 38,900 gallons of the leachate were delivered to an authorized wastewater treatment plant in Duluth over the course of two days in 2011, but the quantity exceeded permitted levels. The company failed to immediately report the violations and failed to properly monitor high pH levels in the leachate, the agency said.
–The Star Tribune

Algae no energy panacea, report says 
Biofuels made from algae, promoted by President Barack Obama as a possible way to help wean Americans off foreign oil, cannot be made now on a large scale without using unsustainable amounts of energy, water and fertilizer, the U.S. National Research Council reported.

“Faced with today’s technology, to scale up any more is going to put really big demands on … not only energy input, but water, land and the nutrients you need, like carbon dioxide, nitrate and phosphate,” said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, a microbial physiologist who headed the committee that wrote the report.

Hunter-Cevera stressed that this is not a definitive rejection of algal biofuels, but a recognition that they may not be ready to supply even 5 percent, or approximately 10.3 billion gallons (39 billion liters), of U.S. transportation fuel needs. “Algal biofuels is still a teenager that needs to be developed and nurtured,” she said.
–Reuters

Biofuel plant called invasive threat 
A plant being eyed as a renewable fuel source has a dark side, choking native plants, clogging rivers and streams and draining wetlands, U.S. scientists say.

Giant reed, also known as arundo donax, is a fast-growing hardy grass species found throughout Texas and the southern United States the U.S. government is considering as a renewable fuel source. Its often unruly behavior has some scientists and environmentalists arguing the ecological and economic risks are greater than the possible benefit.

They say they want the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a nearly finalized rule that would encourage farmers to grow giant reed and other invasive grasses for biofuels production.
–UPI

Water takes 12.6% of U.S. energy
A new report by a team of University of Texas at Austin researchers shows that the energy needed to capture, move, treat and prepare water in 2010 required 12.6 percent of nation’s total annual energy consumption, which is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of roughly 40 million Americans.

“Evaluating the Energy Consumed for Water Use in the United States” is the first report of its kind to quantify baseline water-related energy consumption across the U.S. water system. The report, published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, gives industry leaders, investors, analysts, policymakers and planners the information they need to make informed decisions, and could help the nation achieve its water and energy security goals, a news release stated.

“Energy and water security are achievable, and with careful planning, we can greatly reduce the amount of water used to produce energy, and the amount of energy used to provide and use water,” said Michael E. Webber, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who directed the research project. “In particular, our report shows that because there is so much energy embedded in water, saving water might be a cost-effective way to save energy.”
–Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews

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Groundwater overused across the globe

August 13, 2012

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

Groundwater is being overused
Humans are over-exploiting underground water reservoirs in many large agricultural areas in Asia and North America, sucking up water faster than nature can replenish it, according to a recent inventory of global aquifer use.

In a study published in the journal Nature, scientists mapped the “groundwater footprint” of 15 major agricultural regions, including California’s Central Valley. The analysis, which gave spatial representation to rates of water extraction, concluded that the global groundwater footprint was 3.5 times greater than the size of all aquifers combined.

The heavy consumption of groundwater was driven by a handful of areas, according to lead author Tom Gleeson, a civil engineering professor at McGill University in Montreal.

The areas included the Upper Ganges in India and Pakistan, western Mexico, northern Saudi Arabia, Iran, the High Plains of the United States and the North China Plain. Although 80% of the world’s aquifers had a calculated footprint that was smaller than their actual size, these major agricultural regions contributed to a global deficit.
–The Los Angeles Times

Wisconsin takes comment on 5,300-cow dairy 
The DNR has opened public comment on a proposed ‘super dairy’ near the town of Saratoga. The Golden Sands Dairy would be home to 5,300 cows on 8,000 acres of land. The proposal also calls for 49 high capacity wells to irrigate and water the herd and the cropland to feed them. Comments on the farm’s environmental impact statement will be taken through September 21, and you can find out more online.
–WSAU Radio

MPCA Bottle Buyology exhibit promotes recycling 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s State Fair exhibit this year will examine the 1.5 billion plastic bottles Minnesotans use – and mostly discard without recycling – each year.  Learn more about the MPCA’s Eco Experience planned for the fair.

Carbon credits encourage harmful gases 
When the United Nations wanted to help slow climate change, it established what seemed a sensible system. Greenhouse gases were rated based on their power to warm the atmosphere. The more dangerous the gas, the more that manufacturers in developing nations would be compensated as they reduced their emissions.

But where the United Nations envisioned environmental reform, some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration saw a lucrative business opportunity. They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas.

That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.
–The New York Times

MPCA tests Minnesota River
The lowest summertime flow on the Minnesota River in 24 years is providing a rare opportunity: to compare water quality under similar conditions two decades apart.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been testing the metro end of the river to see whether the oxygen content may have reached dangerously low levels after seven recent months of drought and the second-hottest July on record in the Twin Cities. It’s the first test of its kind since 1988, the last time the river flow in July and August was so meager.

“We still haven’t seen a fish kill, so that’s good news,” said Glenn Skuta, water monitoring manager for the MPCA.

Workers were testing 21 miles of the river last week, from where it enters the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to near Valley Fair in Shakopee. Test results, which won’t be known for several weeks, will be compared with those from 1988, another legendary hot and dry year.
–The Star Tribune

Research pushes climate change argument
The percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years, according to a new scientific paper.

The change is so drastic, the paper says, that scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases.

Those claims, which go beyond the established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, were advanced by James E. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors in a scientific paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–The New York Times

Beverage firms invest in protecting water 
Fifty miles outside the nation’s fourth-largest city is a massive field of waist-high grass, buzzing bees and palm-size butterflies, just waiting to be ripped up by an entrepreneur. Rather than develop this pristine remnant of coastal prairie, vast enough to house more than 300 football fields, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure it remains untouched.

The project is part of the company’s $1.1 million investment in the Nature Conservancy, designed to benefit five Texas watersheds — including Nash Prairie outside of Houston — from which its bottling plants draw water.

The money will go toward preservation work, such as reseeding the grass, to restore and expand an ecosystem that once covered 6 million acres from southwestern Louisiana through Texas. The projects will improve water quality and quantity by preserving the prairies’ sponge-like attributes. But for Dr Pepper and other beverage companies engaged in similar work, the impetus is their bottom line — conserving water guarantees long-term access to the most crucial ingredient in their products.
–The Associated Press

 

Conservation wins one in Senate’s Farm Bill

June 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservation Reserve acres to drop

May 29, 2012

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

3.9 million acres accepted for Conservation Reserve
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on May 25 that the agency had accepted farmers’ requests to enroll 3.9 million acres of environmentally sensitive land into the Conservation Reserve Program next year. Those acres, which farmers will be paid to take out of production, will be more than offset by more than 6 million acres scheduled to come out of the  CRP program on Sept. 30. Read the USDA news release. A Des Moines Register article said Iowa will have a net gain of about 13,000 acres in the conservation program.

Information on the amount of Minnesota farmland going into, and coming out of, the CRP program was not immediately available. Nationwide about 30 million acres of farmland are currently in the CRP program.

Study: Groundwater use a risk to food supply
The nation’s food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere.

The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S.

Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

“We’re already seeing changes in both areas,” said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. “We’re seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe.”
–Science Daily

MPCA’s Stine talks policy 
Read an important Associated Press interview with John Linc Stine, the new commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In the interview, Stine talks about agricultural runoff in the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers and prospects for copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Oil drilling in the Arctic
Read a New York Times article on oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Shell is scheduled to begin test drilling off the Alaskan coast in July.

A source of conservation news 
Do you follow news about soil and water conservation, especially in agricultural settings? Take a  look at SWCS Conservation NewsBriefs and consider subscribing. It is an electronic digest of new items published for members of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Taconite approved to fight phosphorus 
A Minnesota pollution-control panel has approved the dumping of 13.5 tons of taconite concentrate into a Chisago County lake to battle high levels of weed-producing phosphorus.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board gave the Rush Lake Improvement Association clearance Tuesday, May 22, to go ahead with the experimental project.

The panel signed off on it without requiring an informational review that an environmental group and other area residents had sought. “It’s a huge disappointment,” said Don Arnosti, policy director for Audubon Minnesota, which sought the review, an exercise that can lead to a more stringent examination. “In the end, they wimped out. It’s throwaway words in a public meeting. There are no consequences.”

The pollution-control board added a few stipulations, though, after some members openly wondered why such a review, called an environmental assessment worksheet, shouldn’t be conducted. The lake association has been trying for years to reduce levels of phosphorus, a nutrient that promotes algae growth when present in elevated concentrations. Common sources include animal waste and fertilizer.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Higher Grand Canyon river flows OK’d
The Interior Department announced a plan to allow periodic increases in the flow of Colorado River water through the Grand Canyon, alleviating the environmental disruption caused by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona in the 1960s.

The secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, said the plan would allow the river’s managers to release excess water — more than twice as much as average flows — through and over the hydroelectric dam at will to help propel silt and sediment downstream into the canyon.

By mimicking the river’s original dynamics, Interior Department officials said, the flows could help restore the backwater ecosystems in which native fish are most at home. The goal is partly to enhance sandbars that create backwaters for an endangered fish, the humpback chub. The excess sand also nourishes beaches used by wildlife, hikers and rafters.
–The New York Times

Pollution taints China’s groundwater 
Underground water in 57 percent of monitoring sites across Chinese cities have been found polluted or extremely polluted, the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper run by Xinhua News Agency, reported, quoting figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The MEP statistics also suggest that 298 million rural residents do not have access to safe drinking water. In the first half of last year, of the seven main water systems in China, only the Yangtze and Pearl rivers had good water quality, and the Haihe River in north China was heavily polluted, with the others all moderately polluted, according to the MEP.

To address poor water quality, the MEP has decided to beef up protection of water sources.
–China.org.cn

Residents, farmers debate Wis. groundwater use
As a child, Barb Feltz spent her days along the Little Plover River, fishing for trout, playing in the water and muck, hunting for critters. Some years, those memories are about all that’s left of the Little Plover. As an adult she’s seen the water disappear, leaving a dry creek bed in 2009 and taking with it the opportunity for others to enjoy nature and form memories, like she did while growing up.
–The Northwestern

Some good news for the Atlantic
A new study by Rutgers University finds that New Jersey’s coastal waters are not as polluted as scientists had thought. Marine scientists studying pollution-sensitive sea creatures on the ocean floor since 2007 found their numbers and types indicate healthier water conditions than expected. The study involved scooping small animals from 153 ocean floor sites along New Jersey’s 127-mile coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
–Bloomberg Businessweek

Soil erosion worsening 
There’s a lot of soil erosion so far this spring around Clarke McGrath. The Iowa State University Extension field agronomist near Harlan in western Iowa says it’s the worst it’s been in that area about 2 decades.

It’s come from a combination of factors, he says. First, rainfall has been spotty and extremely variable in that area, as it has been in many parts of the Corn Belt this spring. Long dry spells have been dotted with heavy rains, making for optimal erosion potential.

“We’ve had such unpredictable wild swings in weather. Rainfall, when it comes, seems to have amped itself up. We got 6 inches in 3 hours the other night. It’s been coming hard and fast,” he says.

So, Mother Nature’s definitely done her fair share. But, so have farmers. This year’s early start to spring has helped, McGrath says, but the way farmers have used their time this spring has worsened the erosion potential.

“We’ve done more tillage this year than any year I can remember. When we do any kinds of tillage on these highly erodible soils, it’s going to loosen that soil up and it’s going to make it susceptible to erosion,” McGrath says.
–Agriculture.com

Ag $$ available for water improvement
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has $20 million available for low-interest loans to help farmers and rural landowners finance projects that prevent or reduce water pollution.

The funding is made available through the MDA’s Agricultural Best Management Practices (AgBMP) Loan Program and is available in all counties in the state. The AgBMP Loan Program works with Soil and Water Conservation Districts and local governments to help farmers, rural landowners and agriculture-related businesses solve pollution problems by offering loans at three percent interest through participating local lenders.

All practices that reduce water pollution are eligible, such as fixing septic systems, replacing contaminated wells, upgrading livestock facilities, constructing erosion control structures, purchasing conservation tillage equipment, improving chemical application and storage methods, and adopting other water-related best management practices.

The AgBMP Loan Program is based on a revolving loan structure where repayments from existing loans are reused to finance new loans. By continually revolving the repayments, the $70 million appropriated to the program has provided $170 million in loans to help finance projects costing more than $268 million.
–Tri-State Neighbor

Study: $$ penalties for water violations are rare

December 20, 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.

Study: 11 percent of water violations yield financial penalties
At old taconite waste pits near Hoyt Lakes, Cliffs Erie had 225 wastewater violations in a five-year period ending last year.

 Yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which oversees those discharge permits, didn’t fine the operation until earlier this year, when it issued a $58,000 penalty one day before a citizens’ lawsuit was to have been filed.

“I would say if we hadn’t sent out a notice-of-intent letter, action still wouldn’t have been taken,” said Marc Fink, the Duluth lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups.

Cliffs Erie isn’t the only Minnesota wastewater polluter who hasn’t been asked to dig too deeply into its pocketbook.

A recent Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy analysis of all wastewater permit violations reported to the agency from 2005 through 2009 shows two-thirds violated permits at least once. Yet only 11 percent of those violators paid a financial penalty.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chamber sues state over mining and wild rice
The state’s largest business group filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, raising the heat in an increasingly contentious fight over mining in northern Minnesota and what’s good for wild rice.

 The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which represents PolyMet Mining Corp. and other minerals companies, accused the agency of holding them to a different standard from other industries on how much sulfate they can discharge into Minnesota’s wild rice waters.

 High concentrations of sulfates are toxic to wild rice, and the debate about how much is too much has become a flashpoint in the broader environmental conflict over the proposed expansion of mining on the Iron Range.
–The Star Tribune

U.S. files civil suit in BP oil spill
The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the complaint does not specify the damages that the administration is seeking, the fines and penalties under the laws that are cited in the complaint could reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference.

 Mr. Holder said the department was “making progress” on a criminal investigation of the companies involved in the spill.
–The New York Times

 Report: La. sand berms stopped little of BP’s oil
A chain of sand berms built by the State of Louisiana to block and capture oil from BP’s runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico stopped a “minuscule” amount of oil and was largely a waste of money, the staff of the presidential commission investigating the spill said in a report.  

 The report, a draft, found that a decision by Thad W. Allen,  the retired Coast Guard admiral who led the spill response, to approve construction of the berms was made under “intense political pressure” from federal, state and local politicians and against the advice of an expert panel advising on the spill response.

 “The decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed,” the commission staff wrote.
–The New York Times

 New study offers some hope for polar bears
Sea-ice habitats essential to polar bears would likely respond positively should more curbs be placed on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new modeling study published in the journal, Nature. 

 The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, included university and other federal agency scientists. The research broke new ground in the “tipping point” debate in the scientific community by providing evidence that during this century there does not seem to be a tipping point at which sea-ice loss would become irreversible. 

 The report does not affect the decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008 to list the polar bear as a threatened species. 
–USGS News Release

3M retirees build solar water purifier 
Bob Nepper’s North St. Paul basement is littered with strange-looking tools, some of them hand-made on his metal lathe. His garage is filled with an assortment of devices he created to make household chores easier.

But inventing is more than just a hobby for Nepper. He and his friend Bill Stevenson of Lake Elmo have created a device that may help relieve the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

 The invention is a solar-powered water pasteurizer that can cheaply and easily clean water.

 Missionary groups from Indiana and South Dakota took a few of the pasteurizers to Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in January, but the devices were held up in customs and sat idle at a dock. Now a Florida missionary group has bought another of the pasteurizers and plans to take it to Haiti. 

Contaminated drinking water has been the main cause of the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,200 Haitians in the past few months.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Army Corps says it lacks $$ for Mississippi dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is likely to run short of funds as early as next spring to fully dredge one of the nation’s busiest waterways, potentially slowing the movement of key imports and exports and raising shipping costs.

 A loose coalition of shippers, state governments, port operators and farmers up and down the Mississippi River is pressing Congress to add tens of millions of dollars to the Corps’ budget for fiscal 2011. The money is needed, they say, to allow the agency to dredge the ports and channels around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., to a standard depth and width necessary for cargo ships to pass.

 The Mississippi River is a major transportation route for American businesses and farmers to send and receive goods, but its mouth requires constant dredging to remove the silt brought down the river and its tributaries.

 The fiscal 2011 budget calls for the Corps to receive $63 million for Lower Mississippi dredging, $6.3 more than it received in fiscal 2010. But actual costs of dredging total about $85 million annually on average, and topped $110 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Corps.
–The Wall Street Journal

 Dawson, Mn., meat processor to pay for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Noah’s Ark Processors LLC, have reached an agreement that resolves alleged violations of water quality laws and rules at its meat processing plant and animal hide storage building in Dawson. The company was given a $20,000 civil penalty and is required to complete a number of corrective actions.

 An inspection Aug. 25, 2009, documented blood-contaminated water and untreated manure discharging from the facility to the ground, and discharges of animal hide salting leachate discharging from the hide building. The company has stopped the discharges and worked to recover contamination, applied for permits, and submitted reports on recovery work and plans to prevent future discharges.

 Alleged violations include operating without appropriate industrial stormwater, wastewater and industrial by-product permits, failure to notify the agency of the discharges and provide requested information and lack of a stormwater pollution prevention plan.
–MPCA news release

 Study: Cancer rate not high in ‘Erin Brockovich’ town
A state survey has not found a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley, a high-desert community that has become the symbol of public fears about exposure to groundwater tainted with carcinogenic chromium 6.

 From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.

 The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.

 In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer,” Morgan said. “However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess.”

The findings come as some residents are pushing PG&E to purchase their properties, after tests showed that chromium-tainted groundwater was migrating toward them. That miles-long plume, the result of decades of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds, was at the center of a $333-million settlement over illnesses and cancers made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 Measuring groundwater by satellite
When you dive into that salad full of lettuce grown in the American West, there’s a good chance you are enjoying the product of irrigation from an underground water source. These hidden groundwater systems are precious resources that need careful management, but regulatory groups have a hard time monitoring them, owing to a lack of accurate data. 

Now, scientists at Stanford have found a way to cheaply and effectively monitor aquifer levels in agricultural regions using data from satellites that are already in orbit mapping the shape of Earth’s surface with millimeter precision.

 The amount of water in a groundwater system typically grows and shrinks seasonally. Rainfall and melted snow seep down into the system in the cooler months, and farmers pull water out to irrigate their crops in the warmer, drier months.

 In agricultural regions, groundwater regulators have to monitor aquifer levels carefully to avoid drought. They make do with direct measurements from wells drilled into the aquifers, but wells are generally few and far between compared to the vast size of most groundwater systems.
–Stanford University News

 River bypass for California delta wins support
Federal and state officials said they supported construction of a massive structure around California’s environmentally crippled delta to make deliveries of fresh water to farms and cities more reliable.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said such a structure would divert water from north of the delta, where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers meet, to water users in the Central Valley and in the southern part of California.

It would be accompanied by the restoration of “tens of thousands of acres of marshes and flood plains” in the delta to bolster populations of endangered and threatened fish, he said in a telephone news conference.

Farmers and cities in Southern California have been at loggerheads with environmentalists over how significantly water flows to the south should be restricted to help threatened species recover. The delta is the central switching yard where water from the Sacramento River is either sent south to agribusinesses and cities or to the west, where it supports diminishing stocks of native fish as it flows into San Francisco Bay.
–The New York Times 

 Feds promise to battle Asian carp
Federal officials promised a stepped-up fight to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by better tracking their movements, blocking potential migration pathways and killing any that manage to evade a network of new and improved barriers.

 A $47 million battle plan for 2011 calls for refining technologies that detect the presence of Asian carp by identifying their DNA in water samples, and for developing better means of trapping, netting or starving carp already in waterways that lead to the lakes. It also pledges to continue initiatives begun this year, such as researching ways to prevent the unwanted fish from breeding.

 “The Obama administration has taken an aggressive, unprecedented approach to protect our Great Lakes and the communities and economies that depend on them from the threat of Asian carp,” said John Goss, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s carp program director.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 New environment chair wants mining guarantees
The incoming Republican chair of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee says he will build on groundwork laid by his Democratic predecessor.

 Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he shares a results-oriented approach with former committee chair Jean Wagenius. He said he’s interesting in streamlining government, and the permitting process in particular.

“Are there things we can do … that speed it up so business knows what’s going to happen,” McNamara said. “I think that’s possible while protecting the environment.”

On the topic of mining, McNamara said copper-nickel mining can be done responsibly, but he wants substantial guarantees from mining companies that they’ll be around to clean up when the mining is done.
–Minnesota Public Radio

USDA offers funding for conservation projects
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is seeking proposals for projects that will bring partners together to help farmers, ranchers and private nonindustrial forest landowners implement beneficial water and land conservation practices.

“Farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land play pivotal roles in protecting and enhancing natural resources,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to support projects that will improve the health of the natural resources on their land and bring the environmental and economic benefits of conservation to their local communities.”

The requirements for submitting project proposals for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative can be viewed at www.regulations.gov. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers in approved project areas.
–USDA news release

 

USGS finds many birth defects in birds

November 15, 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 many birds with birth defects in beaks
The highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations is being seen in a number of species in the Northwest and Alaska, and scientists to this point have not been able to isolate the cause.

Black-capped Chickadees, Northwestern Crows, and other birds are being impacted by the problem, which affects their ability to feed and clean themselves and could signal a growing environmental health problem. 

In birds affected by what scientists have termed “avian keratin disorder,” the keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in noticeably elongated and often crossed beaks, sometimes accompanied by abnormal skin, legs, feet, claws and feathers. Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center published their findings in this month’s issue of The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology.

 “The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than ten times what is normally expected in a wild bird population,” said research biologist Colleen Handel with the USGS, “We have seen effects not only on the birds’ survival rates, but also on their ability to reproduce and raise young. We are particularly concerned because we have not yet been able to determine the cause, despite testing for the most likely culprits.”
–USGS News Release

DNR increases monitoring of groundwater
In a state known for its abundant water, just how much can metro-area residents count on to be available in the future?

 To get at the answer, a $4 million slice of the voter-approved natural legacy fund will be used by the Department of Natural Resources to site about 40 monitoring wells around the 11-county metro area. The idea is to measure the quantity of groundwater and determine how fast it is being pumped out for homes, schools and businesses.

 The question that the DNR seeks to answer is what rate of water use can be sustained into the future.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Greg Kruse, supervisor of the DNR’s water monitoring unit. “It will take us a while to be able to show some results.”

Three monitoring wells are expected to be dug in Maple Grove, adjacent to a parking lot at Elm Creek Park Reserve, owned by Three Rivers Park District. Others are going in now near the Vermillion River outside Farmington.
–The Star Tribune

EPA acts to set pollution rules for Florida
Despite a barrage of opposition from Florida newly elected governor down to individual farmers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that has finalized its unique water pollution rules for Florida and will give the state 15 months to start enforcement.

 EPA’s new rules apply to nutrient pollution, which consists of compounds of nitrogen and phosphorus that come from sewage treatment, lawn fertilizer, dairy farms, factories and many more sources.

 Industry and agriculture have decried the EPA’s move as a imposing a huge financial burden for a pollution-control approach based on faulty science. Some environmentalists think industry and farmers face very little challenge from new rules that include big loopholes.

 In announcing the new rules, EPA’s regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the high cost of water pollution already is being paid by homeowners who live next to waterfronts, tourism businesses that depend on healthy aquatic environments and municipal utilities that must make costly investments to treat drinking water.
–The Orlando Sentinel

 Army Corps to study Asian carp threat 
The vast number of twisting rivers, canals and backwater channels funneling into the Great Lakes present a daunting challenge for those safeguarding the lakes from dangerous invasive fish, mollusks and algae.

Though a federal judge soon will decide whether to close Chicago-area shipping locks to block the movement of Asian carp, most on both sides of the contentious debate say sealing locks may disrupt shipping routes but are unlikely to stop the carp’s northward migration.

There are simply too many alternative pathways for Asian carp and other invasive species to enter the Great Lakes, officials say, putting pressure on government officials, scientists and environmental advocates to come up with a solution.

The Army Corps of Engineers is embarking on an exhaustive, multiyear study of the Great Lakes water basin to find out how many alternative pathways exist and to better understand the depth of the invasive species problem threatening the world’s largest freshwater body of lakes.
–The Chicago Tribune

 DNR slowly removing Minnesota dams
Back in the early 1900s, Minnesotans built a lot of dams — to run sawmills, make electricity, create lakes and try to control flooding.

 As a result, Minnesota’s rivers and streams have a lot of small dams on them. At last count, there were 1,300 — many of them aging, unsafe and unnecessary.

 Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources are using a 25-year-old state program to remove old dams and restore the natural flows of rivers, a process that can lead to increased numbers of fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 China eyes huge seawater pipeline
Local officials in China’s arid northwest have launched a new push for a vast water-diversion project that would pump raw sea water thousands of miles from the coast to the deserts of Xinjiang through a pipeline made of plastic and fiberglass.

The idea is to desalinate some of the seawater, but to use the rest to fill Xinjiang’s dried-up salt lakes and desert basins in the hope that it will evaporate and encourage rainfall over drought-stricken areas of northern and northwestern China.

Local government officials and water experts held a conference in Xinjiang on Friday to give new impetus to the proposal under which seawater would be pumped across four mountain ranges, and up to a height of more than 1,280 metres, on its way from the Bohai Sea off the coast of northeast China via Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Comment sought on Keewatin taconite plan
A Final Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared for a proposed taconite mine expansion project near Keewatin. The FEIS was prepared jointly by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The impact statement is available for public review and comment until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 20.

The project, proposed by U. S. Steel Corp., would increase the production of taconite pellets by expanding the existing mine and restarting an idle production line. The proposed project is estimated to begin in 2012 or 2013.

 “The FEIS describes potential environmental, social and economic effects stemming from the proposed project and alternatives,” said Erik Carlson, DNR principal planner who is coordinating the review project. “We are seeking public comment on the adequacy of the information contained in the document.” 

The proposed project would increase Keetac’s annual taconite pellet production output by 3.6 million tons to a total output of 9.6 million tons per year. Iron ore pellets would then be transported to steel production facilities. 

To view the documents, click here. To submit comments, click here.
–DNR News Release

 39% of large world businesses face water problems
At least one in five of the companies using the largest amounts of water in the world is already experiencing damage to their business from drought and other shortages, flooding, and rising prices.

 The wide scope of commercial problems posed by growing pressure on global water supplies and changing weather patterns is revealed by a survey of the 302 biggest companies in the most water-intensive sectors, across 25 countries.

 The study was commissioned by the increasingly influential Carbon Disclosure Project, which conducts an annual study of what companies are doing to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of investors holding US$16trillion (£9.9tr) of assets.

 About half the companies responded to the water survey, of whom 39% said they were already experiencing “detrimental impacts”. In answer to a separate question, about half said the risks to their businesses were “current or near term” – in the next one to five years – a sample likely to have significant crossover with those already reporting problems.
–The Guardian

 

World using up groundwater, researcher says

September 27, 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.

Research: World depleting its groundwater
The rate at which humans are drawing from vast underground stores of groundwater on which billions rely has doubled in recent decades, a Dutch researcher says.

Findings published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters say water is rapidly being pulled from fast-shrinking subterranean reservoirs essential to daily life and agriculture in many regions. 

So much water is being drawn from below ground that its evaporation and eventual precipitation accounts for about 25 percent of the annual sea level rise across the planet, the researchers said. 

Global groundwater depletion threatens potential disaster for an increasingly globalized agricultural system, Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said. 

“If you let the population grow by extending the irrigated areas using groundwater that is not being recharged, then you will run into a wall at a certain point in time, and you will have hunger and social unrest to go with it,” Bierkens says.
–UPI

U of M reverses itself on showing documentary
A University of Minnesota documentary about farming, pollution and the Mississippi River is headed to the big screen after all. 

The U reversed itself and will now show the film that Karen Himle, vice president of University Relations, pulled from broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television. 

“Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” will be shown at the Bell Museum as originally scheduled on Oct. 3. Bell Museum director Susan Weller said she now hopes that TPT will agree to reschedule the broadcast, which had been set for Oct. 5.
–The Star Tribune

 Cut down on the flow of unwanted phone books
Do you have a collection of unused phone books accumulating on a desk or the top of your refrigerator? Here’s your chance to stop the flow of Yellow Pages directories to your home.

 Conservation Minnesota is working with the Yellow Pages Association, a trade group; and three Yellow Pages publishers – Dex One, SuperMedia and Yellowbook – to Minnesotans adjust the number of directories they receive, stop delivery altogether and learn about recycling oportunities.

 To take advantage of the service, go to www.donttrashthephonebook.org.

Everglades restoration shows progress
Over the past two years, the multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades has finally begun showing some results on the ground.

 The work has been slow and, given the ambitious goals and big money already spent, hasn’t restored much of anything yet, aside from 13,000 acres of the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida where water levels have been raised.

 But the Strand and a handful of other projects are actually being built. Congress at long last opened its wallet. The state and federal partners managing the work are no longer squabbling.

 A National Research Council progress report on the Everglades points to all those things as signs of marked improvement at the end of a decade that had previously produced stacks of science and engineering studies, countless meetings and endless red tape.

 Still, the 276-page report makes clear that the challenges have only grown more difficult — particularly from water pollution — and the need to accelerate projects more pressing.
–The Miami Herald

MPCA offers grants for water monitoring
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced the availability of $1.5 million in grant money for lake and water monitoring projects. Grant proposals are due to the MPCA by 4 p.m. on Nov. 5.

 Water monitoring is often the first step toward protecting or improving water resources. Volunteers across Minnesota have been measuring the health of lakes and streams to see if the waters meet standards set for fishing and other uses since 2007 as part of a state program called Surface Water Assessment Grants.  To date, the program has awarded 113 grants totaling $5.84 million, leading to monitoring of 991 lake sites and 981 stream sites. 

Eligible applicants may apply through a competitive application process. Eligible applicants include counties, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, water management organizations, nonprofits, Minnesota colleges and universities, and American Indian tribes. No matching or in-kind funds are required under this program. 

The MPCA seeks applicants with experience in project administration, water quality monitoring and data management. The agency prefers projects that involve volunteers and that gather data for determining whether lakes and streams meet state water quality standards for aquatic life and/or aquatic recreation such as fishing.

Details are also available at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/swagrant.html.
–MPCA News Release

 Extreme heat puts coral reefs at risk
This year’s extreme heat is putting the world’s coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.

From Thailand to Texas, corals are reacting to the heat stress by bleaching, or shedding their color and going into survival mode. Many have already died, and more are expected to do so in coming months. Computer forecasts of water temperature suggest that corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks.

 What is unfolding this year is only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Scientists are holding out hope that this year will not be as bad, over all, as 1998, the hottest year in the historical record, when an estimated 16 percent of the world’s shallow-water reefs died. But in some places, including Thailand, the situation is looking worse than in 1998.
–The New York Times

 North Dakota lake just keeps rising
It’s been called a slow-growing monster: a huge lake that has steadily expanded over the last 20 years, swallowing up thousands of acres, hundreds of buildings and at least two towns in its rising waters.

 Devils Lake keeps getting larger because it has no natural river or stream to carry away excess rain and snowmelt. Now it has climbed within 6 feet of overflowing, raising fears that some downstream communities could be washed away if the water level isn’t reduced. 

And those worries are compounded by another problem: Scientists believe the pattern of heavy rain and snow that filled the basin is likely to continue for at least another decade. 

“It’s a slow-moving torture,” said 72-year-old Joe Belford, a lifelong resident of Devils Lake and a county commissioner who spends most of his time seeking a way to control the flooding and money to pay for it.
–The Associated Press

 Drug-filled mice used against invasive snakes
Dead mice packed with drugs were recently airdropped into Guam’s dense jungle canopy—part of a new effort to kill an invasive species of snake on the U.S. Pacific island territory.

 In the U.S. government-funded project, tablets of concentrated acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, are placed in dead thumb-size mice, which are then used as bait for brown tree snakes.

 In humans, acetaminophen helps soothe aches, pains, and fevers. But when ingested by brown tree snakes, the drug disrupts the oxygen-carrying ability of the snakes’ hemoglobin blood proteins.
— National Geographic News Service

 Cut down on the flow of unwanted phone books
Do you have a collection of unused phone books accumulating on a desk or the top of your refrigerator? Here’s your chance to stop the flow of Yellow Pages directories to your home.

 Conservation Minnesota is working with the Yellow Pages Association, a trade group; and three Yellow Pages publishers – Dex One, SuperMedia and Yellowbook – to Minnesotans adjust the number of directories they receive, stop delivery altogether and learn about recycling oportunities. 

To take advantage of the service, go to www.donttrashthephonebook.org. 

BP officially ‘kills’ leaking oil well
U.S. officials said BP Plc killed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico after creating another cement seal, plugging the source of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

 “The Macondo 252 well is effectively dead,” said National Incident Commander Thad Allen in a statement. BP completed its last pressure test on the plugs at 5:54 a.m. local time before declaring the well sealed, according to the statement.

The 87-day spill, triggered by an April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers, tainted hundreds of miles of U.S. coastline. It also wiped out more than $70 billion of BP’s market value, brought new drilling in the Gulf to a standstill and cost Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward his job. About 400 lawsuits are pending, and the trial judge overseeing those predicted hundreds more will be filed. 

“The whole industry is terrified it could happen to them,” Peter Hitchens, an analyst for Panmure Gordon UK Ltd. in London, said in an interview. “The whole way we drill wells could actually change. They’re going to take a lot longer. They’re going to be a lot more scrutinized.”
–Bloomberg News

EPA head told to testify in Florida court
Five months ago, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ordered the top bosses of two state and federal environmental agencies to show up in his Miami courtroom to explain in person how they are going to end the “glacial delay” miring efforts to clean up the Everglades.

He reaffirmed his order, rejecting a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a substitute for Administrator Lisa Jackson, who argued that a high-ranking assistant oversaw Glades issues and that Jackson was too busy to make the Oct. 7 hearing. 

“Furthermore, the demands of the administrator’s schedule, including travel to Asia as part of an official government delegation beginning October 8, would create a hardship for her to prepare for and attend the hearing,” an EPA motion filed last month read. Gold’s response: See you in court, Ms. Jackson. 

In a nine-page order, the judge questioned the federal agency’s priorities, saying the EPA had not “demonstrated any showing of a matter of national importance, issue, or great significance to preclude” her attendance. 

In April, in a federal lawsuit first filed in 2005 by the Miccosukee Tribe and the Friends of the Everglades, Gold delivered a blistering 48-page order finding state lawmakers and water managers had crafted “incomprehensible” rules and loopholes pushing back a 2006 cleanup deadline by a decade and that the EPA erred in approving watered-down standards.
–The Miami Herald

Cut greenhouse gases – feed oregano to cows
When cows and other ruminants digest their food, methane builds up in their rumen, the largest chamber of their four-chambered stomach. Releasing that greenhouse gas — mostly by belching — accounts for 20 percent of all methane emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

 That’s a problem, because methane is a far more powerful contributor to climate change than, say, carbon dioxide, since it prevents more heat and radiation from escaping into space.

 An agricultural scientist thinks he has a solution: oregano. 

Alexander Hristov, a professor of dairy nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, says that oregano-supplemented feed can reduce a dairy cow’s methane production by up to 40 percent, while increasing its daily flow of milk by close to three pounds. (That’s a lot, he says, about 5 percent of the average U.S. cow’s production.)
–The Washington Post 

Wisconsin considers L. Michigan water request
The state Department of Natural Resources restarted its review of Waukesha’s historic application for a Great Lakes water source, a process that stalled in June after Waukesha’s newly elected mayor raised questions about the city’s proposal.

 Waukesha is the first community outside the Great Lakes drainage basin to seek a diversion of water under terms of a regional Great Lakes protection compact. In announcing its decision to reopen the review, DNR officials said that its study of the plan’s environmental impact will extend into next year.

Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank also informed city officials that their request for Lake Michigan water is not complete, and more information is needed.

Among details the department seeks are costs to Oak Creek and Racine if they are tapped to supply lake water to Waukesha and an explanation of why Waukesha wants to discharge its treated wastewater to Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa regardless of whether it buys water from Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine, said Bruce Baker, DNR water division administrator. 

The Great Lakes compact requires a community to return water to a lake as close as possible to where it is withdrawn, Baker said.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

43 world nations face ‘water stress’

April 12, 2010

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

43 countries face ‘water stress,” report says
Ethiopia, Haiti and Niger are facing the world’s worst water shortages, but 700 million people in 43 countries are under “water stress,” according to a new report released by the World Bank last month.

 Almost a third of all the bank’s projects in recent history have been water-related, and a total of $54 billion was spent financing them, the report said. Some, of course, have been controversial, since dams, irrigation projects, flood prevention and watershed-management projects often benefit one group at the expense of others. Also, many projects fail, once built, because the host country is not wealthy or sophisticated enough to maintain them.

 Most countries with severe water problems are also so poor that they are “not creditworthy enough to borrow their way out of water crisis,” the report noted.
–The New York Time

3M clean-up pumps vast amount of groundwater
The good news is that groundwater in Washington County is being cleaned up.

 The bad news is that the cleanup effort will consume more water — up to 9.2 million gallons a day — than Woodbury and Cottage Grove, combined, typically use on a winter day.

 The two cities are asking if there is some way to re-use the water before dumping it into the Mississippi River.

 The cleanup by 3M Co. was ordered by state officials in order to remove traces of perfluorochemicals from groundwater.

 The company is currently pumping at several sites, but its plans to dig new wells in Cottage Grove are raising concerns.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wildlife Federation calls for closing locks
The National Wldlife Federation is the latest group to call for closing the locks that connect the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan in an effort to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

 At the national conservation meeting in Houston, members unanimously passed a resolution calling for the river to be separated from the lakes. It’s a step that has been vigorously opposed by the shipping industry, the tourism industry in Chicago and Illinois lawmakers.

“The National Wildlife Federation realizes this is a hugely important issue, not just for the Great Lakes but for all U.S. waters,” said Jordan Lubetkin of the federation’s Great Lakes office. “Invasive species are a problem that has to be tackled aggressively and immediately.”
–The Detroit News

Invasives speed uptake of PCBs in fish
New University of Michigan research finds invasive species are accelerating PCBs up the food chain.

 Recent dredging of the Saginaw River was intended to remove PCB contaminated soil. U of M fishery biologist David Jude says tests indicate the dredging worked.

 But he says walleyes are showing signs of increased PCB contamination. Jude traces the problem to two invasive species, zebra mussels and round gobies. 

“Zebra mussels filter a liter of water a day. They are removing a large amount of the algae out of that water,” says Jude, “and as a result of that they are picking up a lot higher concentration of PCBs. There are some really outrageous high concentrations of pcbs in zebra mussels in the Saginaw River.”
–Michigan Public Radio

 Fears of new Dust Bowl loom
James Wedel remembers seeing thunderheads on the horizon and thinking: “Oh good, we’re finally gonna get some rain.”

One problem: Those weren’t rain clouds.

“The wind started blowing, the dust started blowing, and you could hardly see in front of your face,” Wedel says. “Static electricity was flying around. It was hard to breathe. I tell you, it was awful scary.” 

Seventy-five years have passed since the worst of the Dust Bowl, a relentless series of dust storms that ravaged farms and livelihoods in the southern Great Plains that carried a layer of silt as far east as New York City. Today, the lessons learned during that era are more relevant than ever as impending water shortages and more severe droughts threaten broad swaths of the nation.
–USA Today

 Source of Minneapolis pollution found
State pollution officials have solved a four-year-old mystery about the source of fish contamination in Lake Calhoun.

A St. Louis Park company used a chemical formerly made by 3M, and it entered the southwest Minneapolis lake through a storm water system, said Ralph Pribble, spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Although the PCA didn’t identify the company, Douglas Corp., which has five manufacturing plants in Minnesota, acknowledged Thursday that air emissions from its St. Louis Park plant may have contributed to the chemical, known as PFOS, being found in the sewer system leading to Lake Calhoun. Company spokesman Blois Olson said the company is cooperating with the investigation.
–The Star Tribune

 ‘Water battery’ captures condensation for trees
According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people – or almost 1 out of 5 people in the world – are without access to safe drinking water.  And even in areas with access, 70 percent of water withdrawn from fresh groundwater sources is used for agriculture.

But using groundwater to grow crops and trees doesn’t make sense to Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor. Not only are traditional irrigation techniques inefficient because most of the water is lost to evaporation, Mr. Hoff says, but water can be easily captured from the atmosphere to grow just about anything.
–The New York Times

Nature Conservancy atlas focuses on ecosystems
What does it take to determine which of the world’s 9,800 bird species depend on fresh water for survival? Try devoting two months’ worth of evenings and weekends to reading the descriptions of every known avian species, which is what Timothy Boucher did. 

Being a fanatic birder, I decided this could be really fun,” recalled Boucher, a senior conservation geographer at the Nature Conservancy who has personally seen and identified 4,257 species of birds in his life. So his “life list,” as birders say, covers 43 percent of the bird species that exist.

The result of Boucher’s work — a map showing the wetlands and rivers on which 828 freshwater bird species depend — is part of the Atlas of Global Conservation, a new publication that shows how nature is faring across the globe.
–The Washington Post 

Fisherman spots polluter in the act
Ken Larson was bewildered by the white foam he spotted twice in two years in the Vermillion River in Hastings.

 “It must’ve been 18 inches thick, and all I knew was that it wasn’t natural,” said Larson, 65, an avid fisherman who walks by the river every day.

 The Hastings resident reported the mystery to city officials and the Dakota County Water Resources Department. Also stumped, they told him to keep monitoring it.

 He did, and said he later saw an employee of a West St. Paul carpet-cleaning business dumping wastewater into a storm-sewer manhole in a Hastings neighborhood. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency served the company, Dynasty Cleaning Services, with a violation notice, and last month Dynasty completed the required corrective actions.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Scott County’s Credit River getting cleaner
The collapse of homebuilding in once-booming Scott County is having at least one quiet payoff:

A lot less pollution. 

It’s one leading theory, anyway, to explain why the Credit River, one of the county’s most important bodies of water, may soon be taken off the state’s list of impaired waters. 

And it would be a particular point of pride in Savage, which boasts of its environmental-mindedness while acknowledging it does contribute to pollution.
–The Star Tribune 

ConAgra vow to cut water, energy use
Over the next five years, ConAgra Foods will ratchet up its sustainability efforts by reducing waste, water use and greenhouse gas emissions companywide, the company said. 

The Omaha-based food producer, whose packaged foods brands include Healthy Choice, Marie Callendar, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and Hunt’s canned tomatoes, said that by 2015 it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and reduce water use by 15 percent from 2008 levels. 

The company said the solid waste it sends to landfills will drop by 75 percent between 2011 and 2015. It also will seek to improve supply chain waste reduction and will work with farmers to increase sustainable farming methods.
–The Omaha World-Herald

Study links atrazine to frog sex changes

March 9, 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.

Atrazine alters frogs’ gender, study finds
A new study has found that male frogs exposed to the herbicide atrazine — one of the most common man-made chemicals found in U.S. waters — can make a startling developmental U-turn, becoming so completely female that they can mate and lay viable eggs.

 The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seems likely to add to the attention focused on a weedkiller that is widely used on cornfields. The Environmental Protection Agency, which re-approved the use of atrazine in 2006, has already begun a new evaluation of its potential health effects.

 Its manufacturer, Swiss agri-business giant Syngenta, says research has proven that the chemical is safe for animals and for people, who could be exposed to trace amounts in drinking water. 

But in recent years, a series of scientific studies have seemed to show atrazine interfering with the hormone systems that guide development in fish, birds, rats and frogs. In many cases, the result has been “feminized” males, with behaviors or body parts more like those of females.
–The Washington Post 

U of Iowa aims to hire 10 sustainability profs
University of Iowa officials are working to draw 10 experts on water sustainability to tenure-track positions by the fall of 2011. With searches underway now, five of the 10 may be here by July 1.

The water-sustainability hirings will be the first group of the 100 new tenure-track positions that the UI  Strategic Plan will create. 

A committee overseeing the hirings has been working for more than a year on the new initiative. UI administration are searching to fill five slots soon, while various departments will begin the process of hiring the other five next fall. The first round of candidates began visiting campus in February. 

“For [water sustainability] to be studied, and talked about, and investigated across campus, we think, is an outstanding opportunity,” said Larry Weber, director of the UI’s hydroscience labs.

The 10 new positions will cost roughly $1 million plus start-up costs, UI Provost Wallace Loh said.
–The Daily Iowan

 Everglades restoration threatened
It started out so big, so bold and with so much promise for healing the River of Grass that environmentalists proclaimed it the holy grail of Everglades restoration.

But 20 months after Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled his $1.75 billion bid to buy out the U.S. Sugar Corp., the grail is at serious risk of slipping away — rather, what’s left of it. 

Crist remains confident his landmark land buy will survive. “It’s a done deal,” he told The Miami Herald. “It’s got to be done.” 

Others, even supporters like Drew Martin, Everglades chairman for the Sierra Club, are less certain. “There is no question it’s hanging by a thread,” he said.
–The Miami Herald

Conservation easements go unchecked
Minnesota is preparing to pay more landowners to set aside thousands of acres for conservation, but it appears state officials have little idea how much they have already spent on such projects over the years and have rarely monitored how the land was being used. 

A continuing inventory of the properties, ordered by a state panel, shows that the Department of Natural Resources now has more than 1,000 such “conservation easements” across Minnesota, but has not inspected many properties in years. 

Use of conservation easements has grown since the practice started in the 1970s, exploding in recent years.
–The Star Tribune 

Minnesota DNR  lacks land management $$
The Department of Natural Resources continues to buy land for wildlife areas, parks, trails and other natural areas even though it lacks adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land, according to a report released by the legislative auditor.

 The report notes that the DNR or citizens advisory groups have recommended significant acquisitions of land and conservation easements in recent years — including a 64 percent increase in wildlife management areas, land open to public hunting.

 “Despite these ambitious proposals, DNR does not appear to have adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land holdings,” the report said.
–The Star Tribune

 EPA enforcement slows
The Environmental Protection Agency is riling many businesses with proposals to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time, but data suggest it has been slow out of the gate under President Barack Obama in enforcing existing regulations on traditional pollutants. 

In fiscal 2009, the EPA’s enforcement office required polluters to spend more than $5 billion on cleanup and emission controls—down from $11.8 billion the previous year, according to a report recently published by the agency. The report, which examines the EPA’s performance in enforcing limits on pollutants like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and soot, covers the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a period that covers the last 3½ months of President George W. Bush’s watch and the first 8½ months of Mr. Obama’s. 

Defendants in agency enforcement cases committed to cut pollution by about 580 million pounds in fiscal 2009, down from 3.9 billion pounds in fiscal 2008, according to the report.
–The Wall Street Journal

Obama adviser defends climate science
The disclosure of research “missteps” hasn’t shaken the consensus that manmade emissions from burning fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, President Barack Obama’s top science adviser said.

 The release of scientists’ e-mails and errors in a report by a United Nations climate panel show researchers are human, John Holdren said at an energy conference in Washington’s Maryland suburbs.

The errors don’t alter the reality that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the earth, he said. 

Opponents of limits on emissions from burning coal and oil have seized on the miscues to challenge Obama’s plan to put a price on gases that cause global warming. Climate-change legislation has stalled in the Senate and more than 80 lawmakers are seeking to curb the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new greenhouse-gas limits. 

“Fossil-fuel and biomass burning, and land-use change are almost certainly responsible for a large part of the changes that are being observed,” Holdren said. “Nothing in the recent controversies cast doubt on any of those fundamental propositions.”
–bloomberg.com 

Take time to test your well
National Ground Water Awareness Week, sponsored annually by the National Ground Water Association, is March 7-13.

The majority of public water systems in the United States use groundwater as their primary source to provide drinking water to an estimated 90 million persons. An additional 15 million U.S. homes use private wells, which also rely on groundwater.

 Owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their well water is safe from harmful groundwater contaminants. These contaminants can occur naturally, but are usually the result of local land use practices (e.g., fertilizer and pesticide use), manufacturing processes, and leakage from nearby septic systems. The presence of contaminants in drinking water can lead to illness, disease, and other health problems.

NGWA uses this week to stress the importance of yearly water testing and well maintenance (4). Private well owners can take simple steps to reduce well water contamination risks. These precautions include ensuring that the well is located away from potential contamination sources (e.g., septic and waste-water systems, animal enclosures, and chemical storage areas) and conducting an annual maintenance check of the well.

 Additional information about Ground Water Awareness Week, well maintenance, water testing, and well water treatment is available from the Centers for Disease Control at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/index.html, from the Environmental Protection Agency at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/privatewells/whatyoucando.html  and from NGWA at http://www.wellowner.org.
–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

 World Bank warns of groundwater crisis in India
About 60 per cent of aquifers in India will be in a critical condition in another 15 years if the trend of indiscriminate exploitation of ground water continues, the World Bank has said in a report.

 In its latest report on the country’s ground water level, the bank has expressed concern over the rate of depletion of water table in the country and has called for immediate corrective measures.

Around 29 per cent of ground water blocks in the country are semi-critical, critical or overexploited and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. By 2025, an estimated 60 per cent of ground water blocks will be in a critical condition. Climate change will further strain ground water resources, the report said.

India is the largest user of ground water in the world, with an estimated use of 230 cubic km of ground water every year––more than a quarter of the global level. Now,  ground water supports around 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and more than 80 per cent of rural and urban water supplies.

“Out of a total of 5,723 ground water blocks in the country, 1,615 are classified as semi-critical, critical or overexploited, and regulatory directives have been issued by the Central Ground Water Authority for 108 blocks.  However, neither the authority nor the state ground water agencies have the resources or the personnel to oversee the enforcement of these regulations.”
The Deccan Herald

 Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration
Who has the right to bodies of water, in our state, our country, our world? What are the issues involved in making water available to us? How does gender affect the right to water?

These are just some of the questions a group of women began asking a couple of years ago. Their inquiry has blossomed into a project called Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration, which includes a visual arts exhibit, with music, dance and poetry performances, a two-day symposium and multiple lectures.

“Bringing awareness, gathering unity and encouraging legislation about the global fresh water crisis-and the part that women play” is what all of this activity is about, said Liz Dodson, board member on the Women’s Caucus for Art and coordinator of the project. “We can see [the crisis] especially in Africa, where women are the ones who need to gather fresh water for their families. Here, in Minnesota, it’s about women being part of water management efforts.”

The month-long WWR project began on Feb. 26 at a reception at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. At the center of the WWR project is the exhibit of work by around 50 women artists from Minnesota and around the world. Displayed in the Nash Gallery of the Regis Center for Art, their artwork is inspired by the symbolism and deep meaning of water.

Throughout the month of March, events will be held to challenge people to think analytically and emotionally about global and local water rights.
–Minnesota Women’s Press

Methane being released undersea
Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.

Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms.
–The New York Times

 Wind turbines in Lake Michigan?
Halfway up Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, wooded bluffs rise next to dunes, ice-fringed winter beaches, and steel-gray water stretching as far as the eye can see.

 Pentwater, a resort town whose year-round residents number fewer than 1,000, sits in the middle of some of the most prized lakefront in the region. So when a Norwegian-American company recently proposed putting up as many as 200 wind turbines in the water, many residents were appalled.

 “People are very up in arms about this,” says Juanita Pierman, Pentwater’s village president. “We still need to find alternative forms of energy, but I’m not sure putting windmills two or three miles out in the lake is going to do it.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 E.U. eases resistance to genetic modification
The European Commission began a new push to allow farmers in Europe to grow more biotech crops, clearing a genetically modified potato for cultivation despite persistent public opposition to the technology.

 In the first such decision in more than a decade, the commission approved the Amflora potato produced by the German company BASF for cultivation inside the 27-country European Union. John Dalli, the bloc’s health commissioner, said the potatoes could be planted in Europe, with some conditions, as soon as next month.

 The potato is engineered to be unusually rich in a starch suitable for making glossy paper and other products, as well as for feeding animals.

 Currently the only other biotech crop grown in Europe is a type of corn produced by Monsanto, which was approved in 1998.
–The New York Times

 USDA seeks water quality proposals
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking project proposals that will improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states.

The Request for Proposals  for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, through which up to $75 million will be available for partnership projects, was published in the Federal Register.Proposals are due by May 1. The RFP explains the procedures for potential partners to sign agreements with USDA for projects that meet with the initiative’s objectives. 

In Minnesota, three watersheds are eligible to participate: the Root, Middle Minnesota and Sauk. 

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including the RFP and the eligible watersheds, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi.html.
–USDA news release

Irrigation increases in U.S. and in Minnesota

December 1, 2009

Irrigation of farms has increased in Minnesota and across the United States over the last five years, and the pumping of groundwater for irrigation has increased faster. 

That’s according to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and water appropriations data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 Between 2003 and 2008, the total farmland irrigated in the United States increased 4.6 percent – from 52.5 million acres to 54.9 million acres, the USDA reported this week. The total amount of water from all sources used in agricultural irrigation across the country increased 5.2 percent – from 86.8 million acre-feet to 91.2 acre-feet. 

 But the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey found that the pumping of groundwater for irrigation increased 12 percent – from 43.5 million acre-feet to 48.5 million acre-feet over those five years. 

An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons. So the amount of groundwater pumped for irrigation last year was just under 12 trillion gallons. 

In Minnesota, the total amount of water used in irrigation in 2008 for all purposes – farmland, golf courses, cemeteries and other uses — was slightly less than 117 billion gallons, up 10.5 percent from 2003. Of that total, about 103 billion was groundwater, according to the DNR records.

The increase in groundwater use for irrigation in Minnesota over the five years was 10.7 percent.