Posts Tagged ‘Gulf oil spill’

Gulf may see a record ‘dead zone’

August 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.

Gulf ‘dead zone’ is one of the biggest
The annual Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” – a low-oxygen region of seawater that appears each spring and summer and either snuffs marine life or sends it fleeing – is one of the largest on record this year.

That’s the assessment of a team of scientists who wrapped up a cruise to take the dead zone’s measure. This year it’s roughly the size of Massachusetts and stretches from off of Galveston, Tex., east to the Mississippi’s “bird’s foot” delta.

The patch off of Texas is particularly noteworthy, says Nancy Rabalais, a marine scientist and director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dr. Rabalais heads the annual survey effort.

 This year’s is the largest oxygen-deprived area seen off of the Texas coast since she and her team began conducting the surveys in 1985, she says. Indeed, the dead zone’s “total area probably would have been the largest if we had had enough time to completely map the western part.” 

The dead zone forms each spring and summer as snowmelt and rainfall in the Mississippi River’s vast drainage basin leach nutrients from farm fields and to a lesser extent from urban landscapes along the river and its tributaries.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 U.S. environmental officials seek Minnesota input
Lisa Jackson, the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and top officials of other federal agencies with responsibility for the environment came to the Twin Citites on Aug. 4 for a “listening session” seeking citizen input as the Obama administration plans a new national agenda for conservation.

 In a meeting at the University of Minnesota that was attended by about 300 people, the administration officials asked for suggestions on four topics:

  • What is working well in promoting conservation and outdoor recreation?
  •  What obstacles keep people from connecting with the outdoors?
  • How can the federal government be a more effective partner with state and local groups working on conservation?
  •  What additional tools would help the state and local organizations?

 Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the listening session and the officials’ visit to Minnesota. For more information about the national initiative, or to submit on-line comments, click here.

 Chicago’s Asian carp may have been put there
A 3-foot-long Asian carp discovered in a Chicago waterway near Lake Michigan appears to have spent most of its life there and may have been planted by humans who didn’t know what type of fish it was or the environmental risk it posed, researchers said.
Tests of chemical markers in the bighead carp suggest it was not a recent arrival to the waterway and probably did not get there by evading an electric barrier meant to prevent the species from infesting the Great Lakes, said Jim Garvey, a fisheries biologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

He acknowledged the findings were not certain because of incomplete data and were based on a number of assumptions.
–The Associated Press 

Scientists question rosy assessment of Gulf spill
The “greatest environmental disaster” in U.S. history — which has appeared at times to leave a high-control White House powerless — seemed to have lost its power to scare.

A few hours after BP’s well was declared virtually dead, the Obama administration announced that only about 26 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was unaccounted for.

“A significant amount of this,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts.”

But, in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.
–The Washington Post

 DNR sues over lakeshore set-back variance
As more homes creep closer to Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lakeshore, the state Department of Natural Resources is pushing back by suing a western Minnesota township that allowed a property owner to build a house 14 feet from Ida Lake. The rare move could signal a new statewide emphasis on controlling building on waterfront land.

 “This is a shot across the bow on the part of DNR,” said Brad Karkkainen, an environmental law expert at the University of Minnesota.

 Karkkainen said the new suit against Cormorant Township will send a message to localities that are allowing more buildings — often expansive vacation homes — that exceed state standards for size and distance from the water’s edge and create polluting stormwater runoff. “The importance of the suit,” he said, “is in setting a policy precedent that DNR will use state resources to prosecute.”
–The Star Tribune

Water study probes DEET insect repellent
DEET may be safe to spray on your skin, but not to swallow in drinking water.

To see how safe or unsafe it is, the Minnesota Department of Health has picked the popular insect repellent ingredient as the first of seven “chemicals of emerging concern” to assess during the next year. 

“We shower, it goes down the drain, and it ends up in wastewater that goes into rivers,” said state toxicologist Helen Goeden. 

Like many compounds, there are no state or federal standards for DEET, yet it has been detected in water samples nationwide, including Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Huge Everglades restoration keeps shrinking
For the third and likely last time, Gov. Charlie’s Crist’s controversial Big Sugar deal is being dramatically downsized.

With their budget squeezed by a brutal economy and two major legal defeats, South Florida water managers have proposed yet another major whack at a land buy once so bold and bright that environmentalists touted it as the holy grail of Everglades restoration: Buy out the entire U.S. Sugar Corp. — lock, stock and all 180,000-plus acres — for $1.75 billion and convert much of the massive swath of farms into water storage and cleanup projects. 

The fragments now left on the table: $197 million cash for 26,800 acres, most of it citrus groves, and “options” to buy the rest at $7,400 an acre over the next three years or at market price over the next decade.
–The Miami Herald 

Scientists probe California estuary
Scientists tasked with unraveling one of the nation’s most vexing environmental puzzles started their first field trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at a fish processing facility here near one of the estuary’s major water-pumping stations. 

Assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists — 15 experts in estuarine ecology, hydrology, fisheries science and water resources engineering — were gathering information for a series of reports that could influence management of the West Coast’s largest estuary for decades to come.

The stakes for the two-year study are high. All around the delta, demand for water is growing — water for endangered fish, for farms and for 25 million people. Political pressure from California’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and others finally forced the White House to order the review this spring.
–The New York Times
 

Florida contest saves tons of water
Gary and Linda Rogers are turning blue into green. 

The Cooper City couple saved $117 by reducing their water usage by 27,000 gallons in just three months. 

They weren’t the only ones. 

When the city’s utilities department issued a three-month water conservation challenge, 12 teams of Cooper City homeowners signed on. The competition pitted two local homeowners’ associations — the Homes at Forest Lake and Reflections at Rock Creek — to see who could save the most water. 

“Water conservation is not a new concept. We just wanted to make it more visible and try to engage folks a little more,” said Mike Bailey, director of utilities.
–The Miami Herald 

Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
Worried about tapping out their wells and the possible risk of pollution, nearly a dozen Lake County communities have pushed a plan to allow them to draw their water from Lake Michigan.

The $252 million proposal, which needs approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, calls for pumping water from a proposed new treatment plant at Zion and running it through 57 miles of new pipelines.

Towns involved in the project now get their water from wells that tap into an aquifer in the bedrock. Some communities are running low, officials say.

“We’re seeing severe depletion,” said Matt Formica, Lindenhurst village administrator. The village has nine functioning shallow wells. “Two are on their last legs. We have to do something. … We’re running out of water.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Invasive spiny waterfleas spread to Burntside L.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed that spiny waterfleas were discovered in Burntside Lake near Ely recently. They were discovered by an angler when he observed them collecting on fishing lines in the water.

 “Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR invasive species specialist. “Although the waterfleas can die between fishing trips, they might be carrying resting eggs that can begin a new infestation.” 

Spiny waterfleas are currently found in Lake Superior, Mille Lacs Lake, Fish Lake, and the U.S.-Canadian border waters such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake as well as lakes on the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marias.

 Spiny waterfleas can collect in masses, entangling on fishing lines, downrigger cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only one-fourth to five-eighths inch long.

 Experts believe spiny waterfleas originally arrived in the U.S. from Eurasia in the ballast water of cargo ships. They were first found in Lake Superior in 1987.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Research: Gulf oil dispersants not likely to be EDCs
Government researchers are reporting that eight of the most commonly used oil dispersants used to fight oil spills, such as those being used in the Gulf of Mexico, appear unlikely to act as endocrine disruptors.

More than 1.5 million gallons of oil spill dispersants — a combination of one or more surfactants with the ability to emulsify oil and a hydrocarbon-based solvent to break up large clumps of high molecular weight — have been used recently in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The NIH and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study to measure the potential for endocrine disruption with eight oil spill dispersants. The researchers applied a rapid screening method using mammalian cells to determine the eight dispersants’ potential to act as endocrine disruptors and relative toxicity to living cells.

The tested dispersants also had a relatively low potential for cytotoxicity with JD-2000 and SAF-RON GOLD showing the least potential. Cytotoxicity was not seen until dispersants were tested at concentrations above 10 parts per million, according to the researchers.
–Edocrine Today

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Pawlenty joins call for Asian carp summit

July 12, 2010

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

Pawlenty joins call for Asian carp summit
Gov. Tim Pawlenty seconded a call for an emergency summit to find ways to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of Asian carp.

Saying the invasive species threatens both ecological and economic interests, Pawlenty agreed with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s request for a meeting to discuss building a physical barrier to keep the fish out of the region. Pawlenty also sent a letter asking President Barack Obama to convene the summit.

An Asian carp was recently found near Lake Michigan, on the wrong side of an electric barrier designed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. Scientists are concerned the carp could disrupt habitat and fisheries in the Upper Midwest.

Both of Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, are supporting proposed legislation expediting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the problem.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Oil spill commission faces unique task
The presidential commission appointed to study the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and to recommend improvements for offshore drilling has navigated tight spots as it prepares to begin work this week.

Unlike the commissions that investigated space-shuttle accidents and the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, the Deepwater panel must analyze what went wrong while things still are going wrong.

That real-time analysis of a catastrophe “makes this commission pretty unusual,” said Amy Zegart, an associate professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs who has studied the more than 600 presidential commissions convened in the past two decades.
–The Washington Post

Lake Superior warms early this year
C’mon in — the water’s fine (relatively speaking). Long notorious for its bone-chilling frigidity, Lake Superior is far warmer than normal for this time of year, and could be headed for record-setting high temperatures later this summer.

Thanks to less ice last winter and an early spring, the top layer of the big lake will be “exceptionally warm by August,” according to researchers at the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Temperatures in the top 30 to 50 feet of water usually peak at 59 degrees in mid-August, but they hit that mark this week. The record of 68 degrees, reached in 1998, could well be matched or broken.

The heat is welcome news for swimmers and some species of fish, but streams feeding the largest Great Lake have seen some fish kills.
–The Star Tribune

Public comment sought on Reitz Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is requesting comments on the draft water quality improvement report for Reitz Lake in Waconia in Carver County. The report summarizes a study, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, that focused on pollution in the lake caused by excess nutrients. The public comment period begins July 12 and continues through Aug. 11, 2010.

This is the second public comment period for this TMDL due to changes made to the original draft report. Those changes included an increase in the overall needed reduction in pollutant loading as well as revisions in the pollution allocations among the contributing sources.

The draft TMDL calls for phosphorus reductions for Reitz Lake. The phosphorus is transported to the lake in runoff from agricultural lands, feedlots, lawns and other urban surfaces, and failing septic systems. Phosphorus in the runoff that reaches the lake must be reduced if excessive growth of algae is to be reduced.

The Reitz Lake draft TMDL report is available here.

 Written comments on the draft TMDL report should be submitted to Chris Zadak, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194. They must be received by 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12. Anyone who has questions about the review and comment process may call Zadak at 651-757-2837 or 1-800-657-3864,

or e-mail him at Chris.Zadak@state.mn.us
–MPCA News Release

Cass County feedlot agrees to pollution fine
Crow Wing Feeders LLC, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have reached an agreement that requires the company to pay $15,000 for alleged feedlot violations at its cattle feedlot in Cass County, Minn.

MPCA staff inspections in December of 2009 revealed several violations relating to an unpermitted construction and expansion, discharges, and failure to obtain required permits. According to inspection reports, the company expanded its feedlot to nearly 2,700 head of cattle without obtaining a required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. NPDES permits are required when a feedlot exceeds 1,000 cattle. The company also used unpermitted and uncertified liquid manure storage areas for manure and manure-contaminated runoff. These areas were not engineered or designed in accordance with Minnesota statutes, and the company failed to submit a permit application, and plans and specifications prior to constructing them. 

In addition to paying the $15,000 civil penalty, the company was required to empty and close the manure storage areas and land apply the manure and contaminated soils. The firm must also limit the number of cattle on the feedlot to its current registered number of 840.
–MPCA News Release 

USDA: Progress on erosion; more needed

June 21, 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.

 USDA: Progress on pollution and erosion; more needs to be done
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says farmers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin have made good progress in reducing sediment, nutrient, and pesticide losses from farm fields through conservation practices. But more work is needed to reduce nonpoint agricultural sources of pollution to acceptable levels, according to the draft report.

The report’s executive summary states:

  • Use of soil erosion control practices is widespread, with most acres receiving some form of erosion control treatment. Nevertheless, about 15 percent of the cultivated cropland acres still have excessive sediment loss from fields and require additional erosion control practices.
  •  Complete and consistent use of nutrient management (proper rate, form, timing, and method of application) is generally lacking throughout the region. About 62 percent of the cultivated cropland acres require additional nutrient management to reduce the loss of nitrogen or phosphorus from fields. 
  • The most critical conservation concern in the region is loss of nitrogen through leaching. About 51 percent of cropped acres require additional nutrient management to address excessive levels of nitrogen loss in subsurface flow pathways, including tile drainage systems. About 36 percent of cropped acres need treatment only for nitrogen loss in subsurface flow. 
  • About 15 percent of the acres are critically under-treated in terms of conservation practices. 
  • Nutrient loss from fields is within acceptable limits when soil erosion control practices are paired with management of rate, form, timing, and method of nutrient application that maximizes the availability of nutrients for crop growth while minimizing environmental losses. A suite of practices that includes both soil erosion control and consistent nutrient management is required to simultaneously address soil erosion and nitrogen leaching loss. 
  • Treatment of erosion alone can exacerbate the nitrogen leaching problem because reducing surface water increases infiltration and, therefore, movement of soluble nitrogen into subsurface flow pathways. Soil erosion control practices are effective in reducing the loss of nitrogen in surface runoff, but for some acres the re-routing of surface water runoff to subsurface flow along with incomplete nutrient management results in a small net increase in total nitrogen loss from the field. 

The full draft report is available here.

Wisconsin poised to adopt phosphorus limits
Wisconsin farmers would face phosphorus run-off limits for the first time and wastewater treatment plants would have to follow tighter discharge standards on the oxygen-depleting nutrient under a sweeping rules package state environmental officials are poised to adopt.

The rules represent more than a decade’s worth of work by the Department of Natural Resources to curtail phosphorus pollution in state waters. They address a wide range of pollution sources, from farm fields to wastewater plants to developers. The Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR policy, is scheduled to vote on them.

Bruce Baker, the head of the DNR’s Water Division, said phosphorus regulation has been one of the agency’s weak points since the early 1980s. Now research has advanced enough to provide a scientific basis for new standards, he said.
–The Associated Press  

North-flowing phosphorus threatens Lake Winnipeg
A commercial fishing industry that has prospered for 120 years on Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake, is threatened by pollution, much of it flowing north in the Red River from Minnesota and North Dakota. 

The main culprit is phosphorus from both human-made and natural sources, and scientists say there are no easy solutions to the problem. State and international borders make it more complicated as farmers, fishermen and scientists alike try to save the lake.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half a world away from the Gulf, oil spills are commonplace
BODO, Nigeria — Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.
–The New York Times  

EPA’s proposed Florida water standards draw fire
The Hillsboro Canal slices through the sugarcane fields south of Lake Okeechobee and heads east through the houses and strip malls of Parkland, Boca Roton and Deerfield Beach. Empty plastic bottles, candy wrappers and other trash litter the banks. An occasional wading bird pokes for food in the black water.

The canal is among hundreds of streams, canals, lakes and rivers that face tough and controversial new pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rules are intended primarily to keep algae from choking the springs, lakes and rivers of North and Central Florida, but the EPA has included all the state’s waterways, with special criteria for South Florida’s canals.

Environmental groups, who sued to force EPA to impose the limits, say the restrictions are necessary to protect water bodies from fertilizer and other pollutants washing off lawns, farms and industrial operations.

Dozens of powerful opponents have lined up against the proposal, with paper, citrus and power companies expressing concern about costs. The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates it would cost more than $1 billion a year to implement.
–The Sun-Sentinel

Colorado River water runs a deficit
Colorado River water consumed yearly for agriculture and by the 30 million Westerners who rely on it now exceeds the total annual flow.

A growing awareness of that limited flow is leading to increased scrutiny of urban development — especially projects that require diverting more water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

“We’re no longer in a surplus situation,” said Bill McDonald, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s deputy commissioner for policy and budget. “The teeter-totter has tipped.”

Federal data show that the average annual use of Colorado River water (15.4 million acre-feet) has surpassed the average annual supply (14.5 million acre-feet) in the river.
–The Denver Post

California not ready to say drought is ended
Late spring storms smothered the Sierra in snow. The state’s biggest reservoir is nearly full. Precipitation across much of California has been above average. By standard measures, California’s three-year drought is over.

“From a hydrologic standpoint, for most of California, it is gone,” said state hydrologist Maury Roos, who has monitored the ups and downs of the state’s water for 50 years.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t lifting his drought declaration. Los Angeles isn’t ending its watering restrictions and Southern California’s major water wholesaler isn’t reversing delivery cuts. Despite months of rain and snow and rising levels in the state’s major reservoirs, water managers aren’t ready to celebrate or make the drought’s end official.
–The Los Angeles Times 

 Faucet snails afflict Crow Wing River
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will designate the Crow Wing River in Hubbard, Wadena, Todd, Cass and Morrison counties as “infested waters” later this month because the faucet snail (Bithynia tentaculata) has been found there. The snail is linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish and the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota. 

The faucet snail was first noticed in nearby Upper and Lower Twin lakes and the Shell River in Wadena County last fall. The Twin lakes and the Shell River are connected to the Crow Wing River, so the recent detection of the faucet snails is not a surprise.

New regulations will take effect along the river to help stop movement of the faucet snail to other waters. Once designated “infested water,” state law prohibits the transport of water from the Crow Wing River without a permit.  It also prohibits anglers or commercial bait harvesters from harvesting bait from these waters without a permit.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Ethanol producer eyes 1,700-mile pipeline
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, and Oklahoma-based Magellan Midstream Partners LP want to build the nation’s first pipeline to transport corn ethanol from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Both companies say the project would create more than 50,000 construction jobs during the installation of the ethanol pipeline, which could be complete as soon as 2014.

About 1,100 permanent jobs would be generated by the joint venture following completion of the pipeline, which could position the United States as an exporter of ethanol.

Stretching from South Dakota to New Jersey, the proposed 1,700-mile, $3.5 billion project would extend into southern Minnesota and snake through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before terminating in Linden, N.J.
–Finance & Commerce 

EPA questions Monsanto dam in Idaho
Federal regulators are concerned that a dam built by Monsanto Co. earlier this year to trap phosphate mine runoff may be stopping more than just pollution.

They say the dam has also halted millions of gallons of water in Sheep Creek that would otherwise help fill the Blackfoot River.

The Environmental Protection Agency now wants the maker of Roundup herbicide to begin a costly treatment to remove selenium and heavy metals, then discharge clean water downstream, instead of capturing it in a 50-million-gallon lake behind the dam and using it for dust control on its mining roads.

The situation shows the predicament that companies like St. Louis-based Monsanto and the government face in Idaho’s rich-but-polluted phosphate mining country not far from Yellowtone National Park: They must work to contain naturally occurring poisons unearthed during a century of digging, while protecting water supplies in an agricultural state hit hard by drought over the last decade.
–The Associated Press

U.S.-Canada panel warns of threats to groundwater
 The Great Lakes Science Advisory Board issued a bi-national assessment of threats to groundwater in the Great Lakes basin.

The report, prepared for the International Joint Commission, notes groundwater in the Great Lakes basin is similar in volume to Lake Michigan and provides a source of drinking water for millions of basin residents.

“Yet this major component of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem receives inadequate attention in policies designed to protect Great Lakes water quality,” officials said. A PDF of the full report is available.
–UPI.com

 St. Paul to get new water meters
That dusty, aging water meter in your basement? It’s getting replaced.

St. Paul Regional Water Services is embarking on a nearly $20 million program to replace every water meter in St. Paul, Maplewood, West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale. That’s 94,000 meters in all, over the next three years, beginning this fall.

The new meters will be high-tech compared with the current devices. They will allow workers to remotely check water use by driving past meter locations but never actually going onto private property.

Important details, such as when a work crew will come into your basement to do the work, and how much your rates will go up as a result, have yet to be determined. The water agency is still sorting through bids on the project, and its top executive will propose an annual budget and water rates next month.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Loons, Gulf oil, feedlot pollution

June 14, 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.

Gulf oil spill could impact Minnesota loons
Could Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon, become a victim of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more than 1,200 miles away?

 A state Department of Natural Resources expert says it is a real possibility.

 Unknown numbers of nonbreeding, juvenile loons from Minnesota reside in the Gulf, awaiting the time when they will be old enough to breed and return north. Juvenile loons spend three years in the Gulf before they are sexually mature and migrate to Minnesota, said DNR nongame lake wildlife expert Pam Perry. 

“We have juvenile loons down there right now, and we don’t know what will happen to them,” she said. “Oil can have a direct impact on their mortality, but it can also disrupt the food chain. We certainly have a lot of concerns.” 

Mature loons residing in Minnesota are raising their young, but come late October and early November, they will migrate to the Gulf Coast, as well as the shores of Florida, where they will spend the winter. During that time, they will molt, or grow new feathers, and spend their time feeding in the Gulf, Perry said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Estimate of Gulf oil flow doubled
A government panel essentially doubled its estimate of how much oil has been spewing from the out-of-control BP well, with the new calculation suggesting that an amount equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every 8 to 10 days.

 The new estimate is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day. That range, still preliminary, is far above the previous estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

 These new calculations came as the public wrangling between BP and the White House was reaching new heights, with President Obama asking for a meeting with BP executives and his Congressional allies intensifying their pressure on the oil giant to withhold dividend payments to shareholders until it makes clear it can and will pay all its obligations from the spill.

 The higher estimates will affect not only assessments of how much environmental damage the spill has done but also how much BP might eventually pay to clean up the mess — and they will most likely increase suspicion among skeptics about how honest and forthcoming the oil company has been throughout the catastrophe.
–The New York Times

 Gulf oil plumes unprecedented in ‘human history’
Vast underwater concentrations of oil sprawling for miles in the Gulf of Mexico from the damaged, crude-belching BP PLC well are unprecedented in “human history” and threaten to wreak havoc on marine life, a team of scientists said, a finding confirmed for the first time by federal officials.

 Researchers aboard the F.G. Walton Smith vessel briefed reporters on a two-week cruise in which they traced an underwater oil plum 15 miles wide, 3 miles long and about 600 feet thick. The plume’s core is 1,100 to 1,300 meters below the surface, they said.

“It’s an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.

 Bacteria are breaking down the oil’s hydrocarbons in a massive, microorganism feeding frenzy that has sent oxygen levels plunging close to what is considered “dead zone” conditions, at which most marine life are smothered for a lack of dissolved oxygen.
–The New York Times 

Scientists skeptical of Gulf sand berms
The frenzied response to the BP oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has featured any number of wing-and-a-prayer options from engineers and elected officials. But the debate over a sand-barrier plan that skeptical scientists are referring to as “The Great Wall of Louisiana” has been the most politically charged.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and angry parish presidents have hammered the Obama administration in past weeks over what they characterize as a glacial federal approval process for the state’s plan to construct 128 miles of sand berms, dredging up 102 million cubic yards of seabed in the process, to bolster the state’s barrier islands and absorb oil before it reaches sensitive coastal marshes. 

The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval last week to a scaled-down version of the project after rejecting the state’s original proposal, which could have cost as much as $950 million and taken as long as nine months to build. 

But as Jindal and other politicians celebrate the partial victory, coastal researchers warn that the project can’t be built in time to help — even if it had been approved when first proposed last month. And scientists warn that it may have unforeseen consequences. 

The berm system could reroute the spill up the Mississippi Delta, and it would be unlikely to survive even a mild storm during the current hurricane season.
–The Los Angeles Times 

Media struggle to get close to oil spill
When the operators of Southern Seaplane in Belle Chasse, La., called the local Coast Guard-Federal Aviation Administration command center for permission to fly over restricted airspace in Gulf of Mexico, they made what they thought was a simple and routine request.

 A pilot wanted to take a photographer from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans to snap photographs of the oil slicks blackening the water. The response from a BP contractor who answered the phone late last month at the command center was swift and absolute: Permission denied.

 “We were questioned extensively. Who was on the aircraft? Who did they work for?” recalled Rhonda Panepinto, who owns Southern Seaplane with her husband, Lyle. “The minute we mentioned media, the answer was: ‘Not allowed.’ ”
–The New York Times 

State completes Lake Vermilion park deal
With Gov. Tim Pawlenty completing a land deal for a new Minnesota state park, visitors could make their first trips there yet this year. 

Pawlenty and U.S. Steel Executive Vice President John Goodish signed documents transferring about 3,000 acres in northeastern Minnesota to the state for Lake Vermilion State Park. 

The state paid U.S. Steel $18 million for the property on Lake Vermilion’s eastern shore and has an additional $2 million available to begin developing the park, a process that will take six or more years. 

That $20 million was set aside by the Legislature two years ago, but an additional $30 million or so for future development costs still must be approved. 

The event in the governor’s reception room culminates a process that began three years ago when Pawlenty announced plans for the park, the first major new one in Minnesota since Tettegouche in 1979.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

St. Paul brewery well flows again
St. Paul’s old Schmidt Brewery is once again selling water that has remained deep under the Earth’s surface for 35 millenia.

 For 50 cents a gallon, people can now draw water from the brewery’s 1,050-foot-deep well. The well was drilled in 1980, and its water was later gauged by a University of Minnesota geology professor to be about 35,000 years old.

A pair of vending machines on the West Seventh side of the building at 882 W. Seventh St. will dispense as many gallons as residents need.

 But if 50 cents is too much, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 19, the brewer’s old Rathskeller, or German drinking hall, will be open to the public. At that time, David Kreitzer, who represents the building’s owners, said he will start offering free water for several days, followed by half-price water for a number of weeks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

MPCA, farmer agree to $45,000 pollution penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has reached an agreement with feedlot owner Joe Varner that requires him to pay $45,000 for alleged water pollution violations at his cattle farm near Clarissa in Todd County. 

 MPCA and Todd County feedlot staff inspections during 2008-2009 revealed several violations, mostly relating to pollution discharges into area waterways.  According to inspection reports, Varner failed to correct identified pollution hazards which allowed manure-contaminated sediment and runoff to discharge into two road ditches, one of which leads directly to area streams and rivers.  These discharges were not reported and no attempt was made to recover them once they had left the property.  The feedlot also exceeded its county-permitted limit of 712 head of cattle, and failed to obtain a required national pollution discharge elimination system permit once the number of cattle exceeded 1,000 head.  

Of the $45,000 civil penalty, up to $15,000 may be abated if Varner proves he spent that amount to correct the pollution hazards that allowed the discharges from his property.  If this is not done to the satisfaction of the MPCA, then the final $15,000 will be due in March 2012.  Varner must also submit a list of all sites in Minnesota that contain cattle he owns, along with evidence that these sites are properly registered and permitted. 

The MPCA regulates the collection, transportation, storage, processing and disposal of animal manure.  It also provides outreach and training for feedlot operators. 
–MPCA news release 

EPA takes action against Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against three beef feedlot operations in Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) into the region’s rivers and streams.

 “In some instances, we are finding harmful bacteria such as E.coli in wastewater discharged by feedlots at levels that are exponentially higher than the levels at which EPA permits municipal wastewater treatment systems to discharge their treated wastewater,” EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “This is just one measure of the harm that can come when feedlots fail to operate within the law.”

 Runoff from CAFOs may contain such pollutants as pathogens and sediment, as well as nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, all of which can harm aquatic life and impact water quality.
–EPA Region 7 News Release 

Cottage Grove eyes reuse of tainted water  
Cottage Grove will hold off on instituting new restrictions on midday lawn watering until city leaders meet with state officials about finding a way to reuse millions of gallons of water being pumped out of south Washington County’s aquifers as part of 3M’s efforts to clean up contaminated groundwater. 

Under pressure from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to lower the city’s per capita water usage, public works officials proposed a ban on residential irrigation between noon and 4 p.m. for properties on the city’s water system, as well as an amendment to the city’s water conservation ordinance that would have allowed the public works director to impose emergency regulations in extreme conditions. 

But city council members said the amount of water saved by tacking the midday restriction on top of the city’s existing odd-even watering regulations would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of gallons of water being pumped, treated and dumped into the Mississippi River during 3M cleanup efforts.
–The South Washington County Bulletin 

Army Corps to restore islands in Mississippi
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, awarded a $3.4 million contract to J.F. Brennan Co., Inc. of La Crosse, Wis., to restore islands in the Mississippi River.The project is an effort to restore lost and diminished fish and wildlife habitat in Pool 8 by restoring islands that have eroded or completely disappeared. Island loss allows more wave action in the backwaters, which can uproot plants and keep sediment suspended. Suspended sediment increases turbidity levels in the water, which reduces the amount of sunlight that penetrates the water and enables plant growth.
Phases I and II of the Pool 8 Islands habitat restoration project included building Horseshoe and Boomerang islands near Brownsville, Minn., and an island complex near Stoddard, Wis. The first stage of phase III was completed in 2006 in an area downstream of Stoddard. Stage 2 was completed in the fall 2009 and involved the construction of 12 islands in the Raft Channel area below Brownsville.Stage 3A will involve the construction of five large and three smaller islands near the raft channel area. Material to build the islands will be dredged from the vicinity of the islands and from Schnicks Bay. Most of the construction under this contract will be completed this year with three additional islands to be built in 2010.
–Army Corps of Engineers news release Climate scientists cite harassment
A few years ago, Ben Santer, a climate scientist with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, answered a 10 p.m. doorbell ring at his home. After opening the door, he found a dead rat on his doorstep and a man in yellow Hummer speeding away while “shouting curses at me.” 

Santer shared this story last week before a congressional committee examining the increasing harassment of climate scientists, and the state of climate science. 

After the online posting in November of 1,073 stolen e-mails from climate scientists, including some from Santer, the threats took a more ominous turn,” Santer told members of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Skeptics of climate change have dubbed the e-mail incident “Climategate.” 

“The nature of these e-mail threats has been of more concern,” Santer said. “I’ve worried about the security and safety of my family.”
–The Contra Costa Times

 Group promotes safer, homemade cleansers
What do you get when you mix baking soda, olive oil and borax, with a little white wine on the side?

 A green cleaning party.

 Dubbed the 21st-century equivalent of a Tupperware party by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), an environmental and health organization, the parties are a way for women to gather and create green, safe and cheap cleaning products.
–The Star Tribune

Lights pollute the night sky
Time was, the stars in the sky epitomized the very concept of countlessness. “Innumerable as the stars of night,” wrote Milton. If the poet’s contemporaries had tried enumerate the twinkling beacons above, they might have been able to make out 5,000 or more with the naked eye on a clear, moonless night. Today, a stargazing city-dweller would be lucky to identify a few dozen distinct points of light overhead, even under optimal meteorological conditions. And just one in three Americans can see the Milky Way from where they live. 

What happened to the stars? They got polluted. Polluted by light.

It’s not the stars themselves that have vanished, but rather the inky-black backdrop against which they used to be visible. Artificial light, cast upward from our cities and roads, has washed out the natural darkness. It has obscured the obscura. It has made the night false.
–The Washington Post

 Drainage information sessions set
Agricultural producers, ditch and tile contractors, watershed professionals, elected officials and citizens are invited to learn about farm drainage technology that has the ability to save groundwater, reduce runoff to local waterways, improve tile drain water quality and potentially increase crop yields.

 The technique – known as drainage management or conservation drainage – involves the installation of mechanisms in farm drainage tiles that allow water to be drained quickly from fields before spring tillage and then allow water to be held in the soil during the growing season. 

Three information sessions – from 7 to 8:30 p.m. — will be held:

  •   Wednesday, June 16, LeSueur County Environmental Services Center, 515 S. Maple Ave., LeCenter.
  •  Tuesday, June 22, Arlington Community Center, 204 Shamrock Drive, Arlington.
  •  Wednesday, June 23, Redwood Falls Community Center, 901 East Cook St., Redwood Falls.

 All the sessions are free. For information, contact Scott Sparlin at yasure@lycos.com or 507-276-2280.

 

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

The Gulf spill, Chesapeake Bay and nitrates

May 17, 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 in their entirety where they originally were published.

BP manages to capture part of oil spill
After more than three weeks of efforts to stop a gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers achieved some success when they used a milelong pipe to capture some of the oil and divert it to a drill ship on the surface some 5,000 feet above the wellhead, company officials said.

 After two false starts, engineers successfully inserted a narrow tube into the damaged pipe from which most of the oil is leaking.

 “It’s working as planned,” Kent Wells, a senior executive vice president of BP, said at a briefing in Houston on Sunday afternoon. “So we do have oil and gas coming to the ship now, we do have a flare burning off the gas, and we have the oil that’s coming to the ship going to our surge tank.”

Mr. Wells said he could not yet say how much oil had been captured or what percentage of the oil leaking from a 21-inch riser pipe was now flowing into the 4-inch-wide insertion tube.
–The New York Times

Gulf spill could be 5 times official estimate
The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is far greater than official estimates suggest, according to an exclusive NPR analysis.

At NPR’s request, experts analyzed video that BP released. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that. 

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry. 

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
–National Public Radio

 Litany of problems listed for BP shut-off device
A House energy panel investigation has found that the blowout preventer that failed to stop a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe and stop the flow of oil.

 In a devastating review of the blowout preventer, which BP said was supposed to be “fail-safe,” Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on oversight, said that documents and interviews show that the device was anything but. 

The comments came in a hearing in which lawmakers grilled senior executives from BP and oilfield service firms Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron, maker of the blowout preventer. In one exchange, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) pressed BP on why it seemed to be “flailing” to deal with a spill only 2 percent as large as what it had said it could handle in its license application.
–The Washington Post 

Some permitting bypassed for Gulf drilling
The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.

 Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.

The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.
–The New York Times

West Coast drilling ban proposed
The political ripples from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster spread in the capital as six West Coast senators proposed a permanent ban on drilling in the Pacific and another group tried to raise oil company liability in a spill to $10 billion from the current $75 million.

 The move by senators from California, Oregon and Washington, all Democrats, was largely symbolic because there are no plans at present to open the West Coast to drilling. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, withdrew a modest plan for new offshore drilling shortly after the gulf accident.
–The New York Times  

Nitrates taint California drinking water
The wells that supply more than 2 million Californians with drinking water have been found to contain harmful levels of nitrates over the past 15 years — a time marked by lax regulatory efforts to control the colorless and odorless contaminant. 

Nitrates, a byproduct of farm fertilizer and some wastewater treatment systems, are now the most common groundwater contaminant in California and across the country. 

They show up primarily in private wells, especially in rural California, but also in some municipal water systems. State law requires public systems to remove nitrates. Many rural communities, however, don’t have access to the type of treatment systems available in metropolitan areas.
–The San Jose Mercury News

 DNR makes choice to drain Bovey mine pits
Governmental wrangling over how to take water from a chain of abandoned mining pits threatening to flood Bovey appears to be over.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten recently chose to lower the water level by diverting it west to the Prairie River. The Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board prefers an option that would pump water east to Holman Lake.

 “A project needs to be built as soon as possible,” Holsten wrote the board on May 5. “Even though the Holman-Trout option is the Board’s preferred project, I have determined that this option is not ready to proceed due to budget and time issues.”
The Duluth News-Tribune 

Urban Birding Festival set
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ fifth annual Urban Birding Festival will be held May 13-16 at various locations throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul. It’s a free celebration of springtime birds, especially those which inhabit urban areas. 

“There are excellent birding opportunities in the heart of a metropolitan area,” said Liz Harper, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. “Experts can help birders of all levels learn where the best birding spots are in the Twin Cities.” 

The festival is billed as “Where Birds and People Meet” and is being organized in part by the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program. It features a day-long series of events at Fridley’s Springbrook Nature Center and daytime and evening bird walks at various locations.
-DNR news release

 Gulf oil spill impacts Senate climate and energy bill
The long delayed and much amended Senate plan to deal with global warming and energy was unveiled to considerable fanfare but uncertain prospects.

 After nearly eight months of negotiations with lawmakers and interest groups, Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, produced a 987-page bill that tries to limit climate-altering emissions, reduce oil imports and create millions of new energy-related jobs.

 The sponsors rewrote the section on offshore oil drilling in recent days to reflect mounting concern over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, raising new hurdles for any future drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts while allowing it to proceed off Louisiana, Texas and Alaska.
–The New York Times

EPA announces Chesapeake clean-up plan
Local farmers, communities with stormwater runoff problems and sewage plant owners got a clearer picture of their marching orders from a federal government that has vowed to do what it takes to clean up the Chesapeake Bay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed a 176-page strategy outlining an “unprecedented” and “historic” effort on how it would accomplish the feat in six bay watershed states, including Pennsylvania.

The agency promised “rigorous new regulation and enforcement” to get the job done.

Exactly a year to the day earlier, President Barrack Obama had issued an executive order to clean up what he called a “national treasure” after decades of sputtering attempts.

EPA signed a legally binding agreement with time deadlines to require pollution to be reduced across the bay watershed. That agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation citizens group followed a lawsuit which accused EPA of failing to restore the bay as required by the Clean Water Act.
–Lancaster Newspapers

Opinion:  Cautious optimism Chesapeake Bay
A turning point. A fresh start. A new hope. How often have Marylanders heard these words spoken about the future of the Chesapeake Bay over the last quarter-century or more? Usually they are articulated by politicians touting some new multi-state agreement or strategy that they insist will lead to a cleaner, healthier body of water.

In recent days, these all-too-familiar promises have been heard again, this time on the strength of two seemingly linked events — a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation against federal regulators for not sufficiently enforcing Clean Water Act standards and the release of the Obama administration’s plan to revive the Chesapeake Bay by essentially doing what the environmentalists have long been seeking.

Both boil down to promises of future actions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and others say this time will be different, with specific goals and timetables for reducing the stream of pollutants, chiefly nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments, that have done so much harm to the bay and its tributaries.
–The Baltimore Sun