Posts Tagged ‘invasive species’

Bighead carp netted in Lake Pepin

November 26, 2012

A 47-pound bighead carp was caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen on Nov. 16, in Lake Pepin near Frontenac,  the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced on Nov. 21.

DNR file photo shows DNR supervisor Brad Parsons with a bighead carp from an earlier catch.

Bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

While other adult bighead carp have been found in Lake Pepin and the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, this was the largest individual carp caught to date.

“This recent find is not surprising, as bighead carp were also found in Lake Pepin in 2003 and 2007,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River team at Lake City. “It adds more evidence that Asian carp continue to work their way up the Mississippi River.”

This recent catch fits the pattern of occasional adult Asian carp captures from the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers over the past 15 years. Individual bighead carp were caught in the St. Croix River in 1996, 2011, and 2012, and four silver carp were caught from the Mississippi River between Winona and La Crosse since 2008. Read the full DNR news release.
–DNR News Release

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Chemical fails to kill zebra mussels in 2 lakes

October 24, 2012

Efforts by the Minnesota DNR to stem two budding zebra mussel infestations through chemical means have yielded – at best — mixed results.

The DNR used copper sulfate to treat two lakes – Rose and Irene – in Otter Tail and Douglas counties last fall after a few immature zebra mussels were found in the lakes.

The good news: Inspections of the lake this summer did not turn up evidence of larval zebra mussels known as veligers. That would have been proof zebra mussels were reproducing in the lakes.

The bad news: Inspections this fall found adult zebra mussels, proof the copper sulfate did not eradicate the zebra mussel population.

Read the DNR’s news release on the effort. Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the findings.

Fracking, conservation and Asian carp

October 18, 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.

Does fracking contaminate water?
Read a good q-and-a discussion of allegations that hydraulic fracturing of deep rock formations by gas and oil drilling operations contaminates groundwater. The review in the journal Nature focuses on a site in Wyoming where the EPA last year said it found evidence of contamination. Read a Bloomberg article on a recent EPA report concluding that its latest round of tests on Wyoming wells showed results consistent with previous findings that fracking probably caused groundwater contamination. Read the EPA report released Oct. 10.

Minnesota DNR calls for water conservation
Drought conditions are straining Minnesota’s water resources. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is urging everyone to adopt water conservation measures.

“Water is essential to our economy, our natural resources, and our quality of life,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “We are in the second year of a drought, and it is time for all of us to take water conservation more seriously.”

DNR is asking agricultural, commercial and industrial water users to stop outdoor irrigation and to implement conservation measures. Everyone who holds a DNR permit for water appropriation should review and abide by their permit conditions and begin conserving water as soon as possible.

“The drought conditions are sobering and call for a collaborative response,” Landwehr said. “At a time that per capita water consumption is decreasing nationwide, Minnesota’s water use per resident is actually increasing. We will need to work together to meet these challenges.”

Public water suppliers have been contacted by the DNR and reminded to implement appropriate conservation measures contained in their water supply plans. These could include water audits, leak detection, and promoting water conservation to their customers.
–DNR News Release

Howard Buffett calls for conservation compliance 
Farmer-philanthropist Howard Buffett said that stronger government action is needed to encourage farmers into compliance with better fertilizer, tillage and other conservation and environmental practices.

“We have a whole culture based on yield,” said Buffett, 55, who owns farmland in his native Nebraska, Illinois and Arizona as well as South Africa. One of several issues that caused a stalemate in this year’s farm bill discussions in Congress was over making conservation compliance a requirement for eligibility for federal crop insurance.

“Government has the biggest club, and if it doesn’t use it, there will be less good conservation practices,” Buffett said. Buffett, son of Omaha financier Warren Buffett, has emerged as a force in world agriculture through his foundation, which finances experimental work in Africa and other countries.
–The Des Moines Register

DNA suggests Carp have passed barrier to L. Michigan 
Even as Michigan lawmakers lambaste the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not moving fast enough to develop a permanent plan to stop Asian carp from swimming up the Chicago canal system and into Lake Michigan, genetic evidence that the fish are on the march continues to grow.

Tthe Army Corps announced it would send fishing crews onto the North Shore Channel of the Chicago River. The agency also will fish for Asian carp on a six-mile stretch of river in downtown Chicago.

The announcement was triggered after three separate sampling trips on the waterway showed DNA evidence of silver carp, which can be shed from a live fish from things such as mucus and feces.

The agency also announced that 17 of 57 samples taken on just one trip last month on the Chicago River near downtown tested positive for silver carp. Crews will be on the river  with electro-fishing boats and other sampling tools to chase the elusive fish.

The Army Corps maintains that a positive sample does not necessarily mean the presence of live fish. Officials note it could get in the water by some other means, such as barge bilge water, bird droppings or even the toilet flush of someone who happened to eat Asian carp for lunch.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

EPA funds Lake Superior mercury research
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a $1.4 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to the Minnesota Department of Health to reduce mercury exposure risk for women and children who live along Lake Superior’s north shore. Excessive blood mercury levels have been documented in infants in this area. The funding will be used to improve health screening and to develop more effective fish consumption advisories.

The Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinics in Grand Portage and Grand Marais, Minn., will participate in the project. Physicians affiliated with the clinics will survey consenting female patients of childbearing age about fish consumption and test blood mercury levels. Patients will also be counseled to promote safe fish consumption choices.

The work supported by the grant will build on an earlier EPA-funded study which was completed last year by MDH. In that study, 1,465 newborns in the Lake Superior Basin – including 139 infants from Wisconsin and 200 from Michigan – were tested for mercury in their blood. The study found that 8 percent of the infants had mercury levels higher than those recommended as safe by EPA.
–EPA News Release

UM seeks ‘greener’ lawns
Advocates of sustainability have often demonized lawn care for squandering water, adding fertilizers and herbicides to the environment, and increasing our carbon footprint through gas-powered mowing. But a new research project from the University of Minnesota could make both environmentalists and homeowners happier in the future.

Funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 5-year project is part of a national research effort aimed at improving specialty crops. Researchers will be investigating ways to develop turf grasses that require less water and mowing, and that stay green without extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers.
–The Line

Celebrate, take note of Clean Water Act

October 9, 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.

Celebrate 40 years of — gradually — cleaner water
The federal Clean Water Act, actually a package of amendments to existing water law, was enacted 40 years ago this month. View a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency video featuring former Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar.  In late 1971 while on the staff of his Congressional predecessor, John Blatnik, Oberstar was Administrator to the House Committee on Public Works. As the lead staff representative on that committee, Oberstar played a key role in writing what is today considered landmark legislation. View video of a June  2012 Freshwater Society lecture on the Clean Water Act – past, present and future – by G. Tracy Mehan III, a former top water-quality executive in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Girl Scouts work for water on Oct. 13
On Oct. 13, thousands of Girl Scouts in 49 counties in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin will celebrate the Girl Scouts’ centennial with a service project aimed at protecting lakes and rivers.

Some 36,000 girls, assisted by 18,000 adults, will clean up leaves, grass clipping and other debris from streets and storm sewer grates in their neighborhoods.

The project – the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service – is a Community Clean-Up for Water Quality. It is sponsored by 3M and was planned and organized by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys in partnership with the Freshwater Society and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley.

The goal is to prevent excess algae growth in lakes and river by eliminating the phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that result from the breakdown of organic matter and flow – untreated — through storm sewers to surface waters.

Learn more about the Girl Scouts’ Centennial Day of Service. Learn more about Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality and how you can organize one.

Spend an evening with others who care about water
Learn how you can protect the waters around you Do you care deeply about the water quality in a lake or stream near where you live? Are you wondering what you, as an individual or as a member of a lake association or community group, can do to slow or stop the advance of invasive species?

This event – the sixth annual Watershed Association Initiative – is for you.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed Association will sponsor a dinner, speakers and networking opportunities for residents of the watershed district and any other people interested in protecting and restoring metropolitan lakes and streams.

The summit will be from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 233 of the Eisenhower Community Center, 1001 Highway 7 in Hopkins. Alex Gehrig of the Freshwater Society is organizing the event. There is a $10 charge for admission and dinner. Learn more about the event and register to attend. View the agenda.

DNR seeks people to work on aquatic invasives
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking applications from stakeholders who are interested in serving on a statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Committee.

People who are concerned about aquatic invasive species and have the ability to commit to reviewing reports, preparing comments, and participating in six to eight meetings a year are encouraged to apply. Applications are due by Oct. 19.

The DNR AIS Advisory Committee will be comprised of 15 stakeholders appointed by the commissioner. The first set of appointees will be asked to serve either two- or three-year terms in order to stagger appointments. Eventually, committee members will serve three-year terms.

The DNR commissioner determines all appointments. Appointees may request mileage reimbursement, but they are not paid a salary and are not eligible for per diem payments. They must abide by requirements pertaining to potential conflicts of interest.

Advisory committee work can be a significant time commitment. Applicants should be prepared to make a two- to three-year commitment.

Applications will be accepted online. Data provided for the oversight committee application is classified as public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. For more information, contact Ann Pierce at 651-259-5119 or ann.pierce@state.mn.us, or Jim Japs, 651-259-5656 or jim.japs@state.mn.us.
–DNR News Release

Two Otto Doering talks on video
If you missed Otto Doering’s Oct. 4 Freshwater Society lecture on the environmental and human health problems caused by excess human-made nitrogen, you can still see and hear his lecture on video.

You can also view video of a primer on the U.S. Farm Bill – from the 1930s to the present – that Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist, delivered in a seminar sponsored by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

More sustainable water use in India
Read a good New York Times op-ed column by Cheryl Colopy on India’s water problems and efforts by some Indians to return to more sustainable farming practices in which monsoon rains are captured in small ponds to recharge groundwater. Colopy is the author of Dirty, Sacred Rivers: Confronting South Asia’s Water Crisis.

Land use, zebra mussels, chemicals in our water

October 2, 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.

UM to study Minnesota Valley land use
The University of Minnesota  has received a $4.3 million Water Sustainability and Climate grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to lead a study on the interactions between climate, water and land-use systems in the Minnesota River Basin.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the lead institution for this grant that involves researchers from institutions across the country such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, Utah State University, University of Washington, Iowa State University, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The researchers will develop a framework for identifying and predicting processes, locations and times that are most susceptible to accelerated change. This framework is envisioned to guide decision and policy making toward a healthy and resilient environment.
The research team chose the Minnesota River Basin as a location for the  research because it encompasses an extremely broad spectrum of natural and human-induced rates of change and sensitivity to land-use practices.

“This grant brings together some of the top scientists and engineers from across the country to study one of the most important issues of our time—water sustainability under climate and human stressors,” said Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and lead researcher on the grant.
–University of Minnesota News Release

N.D. man ticketed for zebra mussels
Minnesota Conservation Officers Kipp Duncan and Jen Muller pulled into a parking lot in Two Harbors recently and couldn’t believe what they saw — a shopping cart covered with zebra mussels resting in the back of a pickup truck.

“They covered the entire outline of the cart,” Duncan said. “It was pretty amazing to look at. I’ve never seen anything with that many zebra mussels on it.”

The man driving the truck, Bruce A. Hinsverk, 51, of Wahpeton, N.D., told the officers he was on vacation and saw the shopping cart next to two Dumpsters on the Duluth waterfront. He planned to drive up the North Shore to Grand Marais before returning to North Dakota with the shopping cart.

Hinsverk apparently thought it would be cool to have the cart on display at his hair salon, Muller said. What Muller said Hinsverk didn’t know is that it’s against Minnesota law to transport or possess even one zebra mussel or other invasive species, let alone thousands of them.

Hinsverk was cited for unlawfully possessing or transporting a prohibited invasive species and given instructions on how to appeal the charge or pay the $500 fine.
–Duluth News Tribune

Sip of Science focuses on invasives
Mark A. Davis, chair of the biology department at Macalester College will be the guest speaker for an Oct. 10 Sip of Science happy hour.

Davis, who has questioned the value of trying to prevent the spread of invasive species, is the author of a book, Invasion Biology and he wrote and was co-author of the influential essay “Don’t Judge Species on their Origins,” published in Nature in 2011. He has appeared on National Public Radio’s Science Friday.

A Sip of Science is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota. It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer. Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems.

The event will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main Street – St. Anthony Main – in Minneapolis.

Swackhamer talks about chemicals in water
Did you know that the U.S. regulates the use of only about 400 of the estimated 60,000 chemicals manufactured and used in this country? And did you know that the U.S. Geological Survey recently found fish with characteristics of “intersex,” the combination of male and female tissue, at 31 percent of the sites that the survey tested. Learn more about chemistry, water quality and the threat to fish, wildlife and – potentially – to humans posed by chemicals that
pass through waste treatment plants and into rivers. View a 13-minute TEDxUMN talk by Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.

Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary
The package of amendments to federal law that became known as the Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress over President Richard Nixon’s veto on Oct. 18, 1972.  Read a Minnesota Pollution Control essay looking at the law and improvements in Minnesota waters over the 40 years since its enactment.

List of polluted waters grows
Minnesota has just added to its official list of polluted lakes and rivers.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent to the Environmental Protection Agency a draft list of 3,642 polluted – the official terminology is “impaired” – lakes, wetlands and sections of rivers and streams. Of those, 511 are new to the list since two years ago. Thirteen water bodies came off the list, some because they were cleaned up, most for technical reasons.

Read the MPCA news release on the listings. Read a Star Tribune article focusing on some good news: Significant improvement  that took Powderhorn Lake in Minneapolis off the list this year. Learn more about the list and seek the water bodies designated as polluted..

Water, science and the environment

September 17, 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.

Hypoxia Task Force looks to reduce nitrogen
The drought has temporarily done this year what several state and federal programs have tried to do in terms of reducing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the fluctuating levels of hypoxia in the Gulf will surely rise next year if rains return to the Mississippi River basin.

The federal government’s Hypoxia Task Force met to continue its quest for long-term strategies for reducing nitrate loads in the Gulf by as much as 45%.

Success would appear frustratingly slow for the state-federal task force with numerous presentations Tuesday about the need to expand and coordinate water-quality monitoring, as well as better examine the value and economics of applying different practices on the land. Still, Chairwoman Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting administrator for water quality, stressed gains have been made for the task force, now in its 15th year.

“We’re picking up a lot of momentum but it takes awhile to make the kinds of changes we’re talking about,” Stoner said. “It will take some time to see some results but the first thing to do is to agree upon the approaches and changes to be made,” Stoner said.
–The Progressive Farmer

Don’t miss our Oct. 4 lecture on nitrogen
Register now to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the serious problem of nitrogen pollution of both water and air. Read q-and-a interview, conducted by Freshwater, with the lecturer, Purdue University agricultural economist Otto Doering.

Asian carp and the presidential race
President Obama has promised billions more dollars in aid and has cracked the whip on the US Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study on the great Great Lakes Asian carp.

Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama’s rival in the election, says the administration is moving too slowly. He has suggested that “America put a man on the moon” in less time than it’s taking to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of the big fish migrating up the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to broach Lake Michigan at Chicago.

Sure, encroaching carp aren’t in the league with jobs or foreign policy when it comes to national priorities. But the political debate over what to do about the disruptive Asian carp population also isn’t just about the ecology and hydrology of the world’s biggest freshwater system. It’s also about the 64 electoral votes locked up in four Great Lakes battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Army Corps completes Asian carp survey
A study of 18 canals, ditches and other waterways that could link the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds found none was a likely pathway to the lakes for Asian carp, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday, Sept. 14.

The study was part of a broader search for ways to stop the movement of invasive species between the two basins. Of particular concern are bighead and silver carp — ravenous Asian fish that scientists say could out-compete native species for food.

Asian carp infested the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and are approaching a Chicago-area shipping canal through which they might be able to reach Lake Michigan. Under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups, the Army Corps promised to produce options for blocking their passage by the end of next year.
–The Associated Press

DNR restricts withdrawals from low streams
The ongoing drought is forcing the Department of Natural Resources to restrict water use around Minnesota.

More than a dozen industrial and recreational sites have been required to suspend pumping from state waterways.
Levels have sharply declined in rivers and other surface waters as the drought continues. DNR water permits allow a variety of customers to pump water, but those permits also require cutbacks if water levels get too low.

That’s happening now, and recently the DNR suspended numerous water pumping permits. Most are for golf courses or other recreational locations.

“Last week we sent out 16 letters. And there was one in Hubbard County, Blue Earth, one in Martin, several in Polk, to surface water users. And they were told then to stop pumping water as of last Thursday midnight,” said Julie Ekman, DNR water regulations unit supervisor.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Isaac fails to loosen drought’s grip
More than three quarters of the contiguous United States still faces abnormally dry conditions in spite of scattered relief from rains generated by tropical storm system Isaac. As seen on the U.S. Drought Monitor, exceptional drought — the worst category — persists in the very center of the nation from Nebraska south to Texas, east through Missouri and Arkansas to the Mississippi Valley. Much of Georgia is also in exceptional drought.

Drought is the nation’s most costly natural disaster, far exceeding earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and floods. FEMA has estimated that the annual average cost of drought in the United States ranges from $6 to $8 billion. (By comparison, the annual costs of flooding are in the $2 to $4 billion range.) Unlike flooding, drought does not come and go in a single episode. Rather, it often takes a long time for drought to begin to impact an area, and it can fester for months or even years.
–USGS News Release

Journal looks at conservation, climate change
A special research section of the September/October issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, “Conservation practices to mitigate the effects of climate change,” offers a compilation of works that cover the most current advances in the science of conservation practices that may alleviate some of the effects associated with a changing climate.

Follett et al. discuss the effects of climate change on soil carbon and nitrogen storage in the U.S. Great Plains. Chen et al. evaluate a selection of maize inbred lines for drought and heat stress tolerance under field conditions and identify several inbred lines that showed high tolerance to drought. Brown and Huggins quantify agricultural impacts on soil organic carbon sequestration for dryland cropping systems in different agroclimatic zones of the Pacific Northwest.
–SWCS Conservation NewsBriefs

DNR does follow-up searches for invasives
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  biologists and divers searched lake bottoms immediately surrounding areas where zebra mussels were discovered last fall on boat lifts on Lake Irene in Douglas County and Rose Lake in Otter Tail County. The divers did not discover zebra mussels, but searches will continue later this fall when docks and boat lifts are pulled from the shores along these lakes.

“This is a good sign, but these are only preliminary inspections that will help us determine the overall outcome of our efforts,” said Nathan Olson, DNR invasive species specialist in Fergus Falls. “We have more field work to do this fall, sampling the waters for veligers and inspecting docks and boat lifts as folks remove them from these waters.”

Last fall, DNR biologists investigated two separate cases where localized zebra mussel populations were discovered on boat lifts. In one case, mussels were attached to rocks near the boat lift. Both boat lifts had been moved from infested waters to these lakes earlier in 2011.Due to the early detection of zebra mussels in these locations, the DNR immediately treated both areas with copper sulfate, a common chemical used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch. The treatments were conducted by a icensed aquatic pesticide contractor. The searches conducted recently were part of a follow-up plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the early detection and rapid response.
–DNR News Release

Canadian mining firm admits pollution
Canadian mining giant Teck Resources Ltd. has admitted in a U.S. court that effluent from its smelter in southeast British Columbia has polluted the Columbia River in Washington for more than a century.

Teck subsidiary Teck Metals made the admission of fact in a lawsuit brought by a group of U.S. Indian tribes over environmental damage caused by the effluent discharges dating back to 1896.

The agreement, reached on the eve of the trial initiated by the Colville Confederated Tribes, stipulates that some hazardous materials in the slag discharged from Teck’s smelter in Trail, B.C., ended up in the Upper Columbia River south of the border.
–The Canadian Press

The Farm Bill, conservation and crop insurance

July 9, 2012

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

House Farm Bill lacks conservation measure
A key soil and water conservation provision in the Senate-passed federal Farm Bill is not in a  House draft of the bill unveiled last week.

The Senate bill, approved last month, would require farmers to meet certain minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. That provision would maintain conservation requirements that most farmers currently have to meet to receive direct subsidy payments, which are being phased out in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

In addition to the difference over the conservation provision, the House legislation would cut total Farm Bill spending more deeply, make bigger cuts in the food stamp program and provide more federal spending for southern rice and cotton farmers at the expense of Midwestern corn and soybean growers.

Read a National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition commentary critical of  the conservation provisions in the House legislation.  Read a Politico analysis of the two bills. Read a Star Tribune editorial  on the Farm Bill, and an op-ed response to it that focuses on conservation provisions. The op-ed was written by Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited, Peggy Ladner of the Nature Conservancy, Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever and  Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Research: Rising seas can be slowed, not stopped
Rising sea levels cannot be stopped over the next several hundred years, even if deep emissions cuts lower global average temperatures, but they can be slowed down, climate scientists said in a study.

A lot of climate research shows that rising greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for increasing global average surface temperatures by about 0.17 degrees Celsius a decade from 1980-2010 and for a sea level rise of about 2.3mm a year from 2005-2010 as ice caps and glaciers melt.

Rising sea levels threaten about a tenth of the world’s population who live in low-lying areas and islands which are at risk of flooding, including the Caribbean, Maldives and Asia-Pacific island groups. More than 180 countries are negotiating a new global climate pact which will come into force by 2020 and force all nations to cut emissions to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius this century – a level scientists say is the minimum required to avert catastrophic effects.

But even if the most ambitious emissions cuts are made, it might not be enough to stop sea levels rising due to the thermal expansion of sea water, said scientists at the United States’ National Centre for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organisation Climate Central and Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Melbourne.
–Reuters

Citizens join fight against aquatic invasives
Clayton Jensen spends a lot of time at the public access to Lake Melissa, about a mile down the beach from his home.

He carries a handful of glossy fliers he designed and printed, simple one-page handouts that explain how boaters can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The creatures, which include zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil, are moving from lake to lake across Minnesota. Often, they hitch a ride unobserved on boats and equipment.

Jensen, a retired doctor, is part of a movement of citizens and local governments joining the effort to slow the spread of the unwanted plants and animals. Although he attended a training session sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, he has no authority as an inspector. His job is to educate.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Drip irrigation expands worldwide 
As the world population climbs and water stress spreads around the globe, finding ways of getting more crop per drop to meet our food needs is among the most urgent of challenges.

One answer to this call is drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the roots of plants in just the right amounts. It can double or triple water productivity – boosting crop per drop – and it appears to be taking off worldwide.

Over the last twenty years, the area under drip and other “micro” irrigation methods has risen at least 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to more than 10.3 million. (One hectare is about 2.5 acres. The latest figures from the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage include countries accounting for only three-quarters of the world’s irrigated area, so the 10.3 million figure is low.) The most dramatic gains have occurred in China and India, the world’s top two irrigators, where the area under micro-irrigation expanded 88-fold and 111-fold, respectively, over the last two decades.
–National Geographic

Proposal seeks to cut nitrous oxide releases from ag 
Read an interesting article from the Corn and Soybean Digest about a proposal to pay farmers to reduce their losses of nitrous oxide – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – from the fertilization of their crops. Under the proposal, other industries faced with caps on the greenhouse gases they emit could buy credits for nitrous oxide emissions reduced by farmers.

Overall, farms are not a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but nitrogen fertilizer use releases nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide in the atmosphere traps far more heat than the most common greenhouse gas,  carbon dioxide. A California nonprofit group, Climate Action Reserve, is pushing for establishment of a market in nitrous oxide credits.

GAO reviews EPA water pollution grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sends about $200 million a year to the states to fight non-point water pollution, including agricultural runoff. A new General Accounting Office review of  the spending finds fault with some aspects of the grants. Read the report.

Nitrogen; invasive species; water infrastructure

July 2, 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.

Otto Doering to lecture on nitrogen pollution

Otto Doering

Save the date: Nitrogen pollution lecture set Oct. 4
Nitrogen. It makes up three-fourths of the air all around us. It cascades through our environment between land, water and the atmosphere. It is critical to agricultural production that feeds the world. And it is a byproduct of all the fossil fuels we consume.

In the United States, we put five times more nitrogen into the environment than is deposited or released naturally. That excess nitrogen causes a variety of environmental and health problems – pollution of ground and surface waters, smog, increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

On Oct. 4, 2012, the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences will present an important lecture by Purdue University professor Otto Doering on the problem of excess nitrogen. It is an issue that the National Academy of Engineering has called one of the “grand challenges” facing this country in the 21st Century.

Doering is a professor of agricultural economics and director of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center. He led a team of scientists that last year produced a major report on the nitrogen problem for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The 141-page report is titled “Reactive Nitrogen in the United States: An Analysis of Inputs, Flows, Consequences, and Management Options.”

His lecture will be titled “Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.” Information on registering to attend the talk is coming soon to the Freshwater web site.

Minnesota’s penalties on invasives double
Civil fines for people violating Minnesota’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) laws doubled on July 1, when new, tougher laws took effect.

Minnesota law prohibits the possession or transport of any AIS in the state. AIS include zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.

Last month, DNR officials announced that the AIS violation rate among Minnesota boaters and anglers is at an unacceptable rate of 20 percent.

“The larger fines should help people realize that this is a serious problem, and we need everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of AIS,” explained Maj. Phil Meier, DNR Enforcement operations manager.

For example, failure to remove a drain plug while transporting a watercraft will mean a $100 fine, instead of a $50 penalty. The fine for unlawfully possessing and transporting prohibited AIS will increase from $250 to $500.
–DNR News Release

EPA water infrastructure $$ at risk 
A House subcommittee approved a 53% cut to the federal program that makes low-cost loans to cities to build infrastructure to prevent water pollution. Next it will go to the full House for a vote.

U.S. cities lose one-fifth of their water to leaks and suffer 1.2 trillion gallons of wastewater spills each year, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

It is clear we need to repair our water systems, but the financial burden is huge: more than $600 billion by 2019, found an EPA report.

The cause of much of the wastewater spills is storm water overflows, said the Congressional Budget Office . Many cities in the Northeast and Great Lakes region collect storm water to clean it in wastewater treatment centers. Unfortunately, these systems frequently overflow, and so untreated sewage and storm water runoff are expelled into surrounding water bodies. These events happen up to 75,000 times a year, says the EPA.
–Forbes

Zebra mussel worries close boat ramps
Boater access to two more Minnesota lakes is being tightened in hopes of preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Seven Lakeview Township accesses on Lake Melissa and Lake Sallie south of Detroit Lakes have been closed for boat launching and removal, though they remain open for swimming and other uses.

The lakes aren’t being closed to the public, however. Each lake has one state access that isn’t affected by the closures, said Dave Knopf, township chairman.

“It will make it a lot easier monitoring people coming and going from just one access,” Knopf said. “Otherwise it would be impossible to monitor those two lakes.”
–The Star Tribune

Army Corps ordered to speed up Asian carp plan
Congress passed a measure ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up its efforts to devise a plan to keep voracious Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

The measure — tucked inside the highway spending and student loan compromise approved by both the U.S. House and Senate — gives the Corps 18 months to come up with a plan for blocking Asian carp at 18 points where they could pass into the Great Lakes. Within three months, Congress wants a progress report.

The Corps would be expected to look into means of separating the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes where feasible to stop the spread of Asian carp, especially around Chicago — where an electronic barrier has been used to keep the invasive species from reaching Lake Michigan.
–The Detroit Free Press

Supreme Court to hear beach pollution case
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Los Angeles County’s appeal of a lower court decision requiring the county to clean up polluted runoff that flows to the ocean through two urban waterways.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year sided with environmental groups in finding the county and its flood control district responsible for tainted water released into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the county in 2008 in an effort to get the agency to treat or divert the water before it reaches the beach.

Water quality experts have long identified storm runoff — the toxic soup of bacteria, pesticides, fertilizer and trash that is swept to the sea when it rains — as the leading source of water pollution at Southern California beaches and a cause of swimmer illness.
–The Los Angeles Times

MPCA seek comment on Nicollet County dairy 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  invites the public to comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for a proposed 3,000-cow dairy northwest of St. Peter in south-central Minnesota.

Comments must be in writing and accepted by 4:30 p.m. on July 25. The MPCA is the state agency responsible for regulating feedlots in Minnesota. High Island Dairy LLC, owned by Davis Family Dairies LLC, proposes to build a total confinement barn in Lake Prairie Township of Nicollet County to house 3,000 dairy cows.

The barn would be located off 348th Street in the township, about two-thirds of a mile southwest of County Road 8. The dairy would use a process called “anaerobic digestion” to break down its manure and wastewater along with wastewater and sludge from the Le Sueur Cheese Co. This process would also create methane gas to use as energy at the site.

After digestion, the manure solids would be separated from the waste stream and used as bedding for the cows. The liquid manure, along with solids not needed for bedding, would be stored in a covered earthen basin on site until it is applied as fertilizer to cropland every year after harvest.

The dairy would generate 32.85 million gallons of manure a year. The on-site basin would have 15 months of storage capacity for manure and wastewater produced at the proposed facility as well as for the waste from the cheese factory.

Copies of the High Island Dairy worksheet are available on the MPCA Environmental Assessment Worksheets and Environmental Impact Statements webpage. The proposed dairy requires a water appropriation permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as it would use 45 million gallons of water a year. It also requires a conditional use permit from Nicollet County. –MPCA News Release

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

House bill threatens BWCA protections

June 18, 2012

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

House bill threatens wilderness protection
Language in a Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, passed two months ago by the U.S. House, threatens to undo wilderness protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Supporters of current restrictions on motorized use of the BWCA are attempting to keep the measure, which is backed by some hunting and fishing groups, from being  attatched to the 2012 Farm Bill in the Senate. Read environmental reporter Dennis Lien’s Pioneer Press article on the controversy.

Many boaters violate laws on invasives
The first numbers are in on intensified efforts to police Minnesota boaters’ compliance with laws aimed to curb the spread of invasive species. And the numbers are not good. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said 20 percent of the boaters checked in a stepped-up enforcement effort violated the laws.

Between May 12 and June 6, the DNR issued 193 criminal citations, 463 civil citations, 975 written warnings and 267 verbal warnings. Last year about 850 citations or warnings were issued to violators of Minnesota’s AIS laws. That compares with 293 citations and warnings issued in 2010. Read the DNR news release.

Don’t forget: Clean Water Act lecture set June 25
Don’t miss the June 25 free public lecture on the federal Clean Water Act 40 years after it was enacted.

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver the lecture at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?   Learn more and register to attend.

Wisconsin eyes penalties in frac sand spills 
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is weighing a penalty to be imposed on two sand mines for large spills in the St. Croix River.

In both of the spills, the mining companies were not meeting their permit conditions. Wisconsin DNR enforcement specialist Deb Dix said one site had no erosion control structures, and the other used soft sand to build a berm.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Firms join UN push for water efficiency 
The United Nations has received support from chief executive officers at 45 companies, from Levi Strauss & Co. to Coca-Cola Co. (KO), in an effort to use water more efficiently.

The companies joined the UN Global Compact in committing to improve water-management practices during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, according to a statement. The compact is the world’s biggest organization backing sustainability measures.
Bloomberg

Public responds to mercury warnings 
Got mercury? If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency warns that it’s important to manage it properly to protect yourself and the environment, and to avoid significant health and legal problems.

In recent weeks since a statewide news story about a Floodwood, Minn., man trying to sell 64 pounds of mercury on Craigslist, the MPCA and county collection centers have fielded dozens of tip calls from people with mercury to turn in. One Minnesota county hazardous waste facility took in 20 pounds of mercury as a result of the news story.

Consistent with current practices and despite the one-time mercury purchase by the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, none of the people who subsequently surrendered their mercury received any payment for the hazardous waste.
–MPCA News Release

EPA approves $880 million Everglades clean-up 
Federal environmental regulators approved an $880 million state plan intended to dramatically reduce the flow of farm and suburban pollution into the Everglades. Both sides hailed the agreement as a milestone in a decades-long dispute over cleaning up the River of Grass.

If approved by two federal judges, it would commit Florida to a major expansion of projects intended to clean up storm run-off before it flows into the Everglades, adding to the $1.8 billion the state has already poured into cleanup efforts.

In a letter announcing the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the state’s plan represented “a significant and historic milestone in restoring America’s Everglades.”
–The Miami Herald

Grafton, Ill., plant to process Asian carp 
A formal agreement is in place for a new company in Grafton to process Asian Carp harvested from the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and send them to markets in China, but state assistance for the plant is not yet in place.

Businessmen from China were in Grafton to meet with local investors to officially announce the plan that could mean nearly 40 new jobs in Grafton once the plant is open.

A representative of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said the state was supportive of the venture, but no specific details of a state financial plan were released. The Chinese group has entered into an agreement to buy between 30 and 40 million pounds of the fish over the course of a three year contract.
–The Alton Daily News