Posts Tagged ‘mindy lubber’

Minnesota and Mississippi river plans

February 27, 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.

Public comments sought on two major TMDLs
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is taking public comment on two long-awaited reports on sediment pollution in the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

Public comment period began Feb. 27 and runs through April 27 for draft Total Maximum Daily Load studies on the Minnesota River and on the Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota at Fort Snelling to Lake Pepin. The studies attempt to calculate the amount of pollution the rivers can sustain and still meet water-quality standards.

Sediment – much of it from bluffs collapsing into the Minnesota and its tributaries, from erosion in deep ravines and from runoff from farm fields – currently sends about 700,000 metric tons of sediment down the Mississippi each year. Three-quarters of the total comes from the Minnesota. The reports call for 50 percent to 60 percent reductions in the sediment flowing from the Minnesota.

Both reports are available on the MPCA web site. Comments on the draft Minnesota River Turbidity TMDL may be sent to Larry Gunderson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Gunderson at larry.gunderson@state.mn.us or  651-757-2400. Comments on the South Metro Mississippi Total Suspended Solids TMDL may be sent to Robert Finley, MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001. Contact Finley at Robert.finley@state.mn.us or 507-344-5247.

Three big events this week and next month
You can still register to take part in three important events:

  •  A lecture Thursday, March 1, by Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to pressure corporations to become more sustainable in the water they use and the carbon they emit. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • A Watershed Solutions Summit sponsored March 17 by the Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League. The event will include discussions of the Great Lakes Water Compact and the 2012 federal Farm Bill.
  •   A conference March 29 on precision conservation. The conference, sponsored by the Freshwater Society, will examine technology and decision-making strategies for targeting conservation practices to places on the land where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately bad and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

Groundwater pumping depletes White Bear Lake
New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows White Bear Lake water levels are falling because communities north of the lake are pumping too much water from an aquifer connected to the big lake.

The water level at White Bear Lake has dropped five feet in the last decade.

Dry weather accounts for just a small part of the drop, said USGS hydrologist Perry Jones. Jones said growth in suburbs north of the lake has led to greater demand on the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer. When the aquifer depletes, lake water trickles from higher elevation to replenish it.

“There was probably always some water from White Bear Lake leaving and going down into the lower aquifers,” Jones said. “But what’s happened is that by increasing the amount of pumping, you actually lower the water levels in that lower aquifer, so it exacerbates the amount of water leaving the lake.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Take a carp to lunch 
Don’t forget to observe this week – Feb. 26 through March 3 – as National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Minnesota moose herd continues decline
 Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, dropping from an estimate of 4,900 in 2011 to 4,230 in 2012, according to the annual aerial survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Estimates from the survey and results from research using radio-collared moose both indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. Minnesota’s moose population was estimated at 8,840 in 2006 and has trended downward since then.

The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 119 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Only 11 deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.

This year’s aerial survey, however, showed some positive trends. The number of cows accompanied by calves and twin calves increased in 2012, which means more calves can potentially mature into adults. But the cow and calf ratio,estimated at 36 calves per 100 cows in 2012, remains well below 1990s estimates that likely contribute to a peak population in the early 2000s.
–DNR News Release

Texas court says landowners own groundwater 
In a ruling with possible wide-ranging effects on water regulation, the Texas Supreme Court sided with two Von Ormy landowners who objected to the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s power to limit the pumping of groundwater on their ranch.

“The water underneath your property belongs to you,” Joel McDaniel, who brought the lawsuit more than 10 years ago, said about the ruling. “This changes everything for everyone who owns a well.”

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Nathan Hecht, the court ruled ownership of groundwater should be considered no differently than that of oil and gas. “We held long ago that oil and gas are owned in place, and we find no reason to treat groundwater differently,” Hecht wrote.

While ownership rights are the same, regulation of water should not be, the court found. “Unquestionably, the state is empowered to regulate groundwater production,” the opinion states. “In many areas of the state, and certainly in the Edwards Aquifer, demand exceeds supply.”
–The Houston Chronicle

Research: Farmers support conservation
A new research paper finds that most farmers support the long-standing conservation compact that has helped protect the rich soil and clean water that sustain food, farming and public health.

Conservation Compliance: A Retrospective…and Look Ahead by conservationist Max Schnepf concludes through a comprehensive review of public opinion polls that the farming community has consistently supported the historic deal between taxpayers and farmers that was struck in the 1985 farm bill. Under it, growers agreed to keep soil from washing away and chemicals out of waterways in return for generous taxpayer support.

Seven polls taken in the last 30 years show that a solid majority of farmers believe that bargain is a fair one.

“The conservation compact was a godsend for agricultural and conservation groups and farmers,” Schnepf writes. “In the 10 years following the 1985 farm bill, farmers did more to curb soil erosion than at any time since the infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.”   Schnepf notes that Environmental Working Group’s 2011 report, Losing Ground, found that high prices, intense competition for farmland leases and ethanol mandates have put unprecedented pressure on land and water. As a result, the historic gains in soil conservation the compact achieved are being lost.
–Environmental Working Group News Release

DNR seeks frog counters
logo of frog and toad surveyThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program is looking for volunteers to participate in its ongoing Minnesota Frog and Toad Calling Survey. The survey is part of the nationwide North American Amphibian Monitoring Program.

“Without the dedication of generous volunteers, this project would not be possible,” explained Rich Baker of the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program. “Many frog and toad species are indicators of habitat quality and provide valuable information on the condition of Minnesota’s wetlands.”

New volunteers receive a kit that includes a CD of calls by Minnesota’s frog and toad species, a poster of Minnesota’s frogs and toads, a map of a predefined route in an area of their choice. Route availability and past survey results are on the DNR web site, as are directions on how to run the route. A vehicle is required to travel between stops. Read a 2009 Freshwater article on the frog survey. –DNR News Release

Iowa measuring groundwater reserves 
Iowa may have trouble coming up with enough water to fill taps and meet industrial needs in coming decades. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is worried that underground water supplies in some areas might not be able to quench the future thirst created by urban sprawl and the state’s growing biofuels industry.

Geologists already wonder if the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area, one of the fastest growing parts of the state, will have enough water to go around decades from now. That’s especially true of Marion, which may have to find new sources or pipe in water from another system, said state geologist Robert Libra.

Those concerns are emerging from the DNR’s four-year-old effort to inventory and measure how much water remains in Iowa’s network of aquifers. It’s the first large-scale effort of its kind, and one that some say is long overdue.
–The Des Moines Register

Feds reject Colorado water pipeline
Conservationists are casting a project to pipe water from Wyoming to Colorado as dead after federal authorities nixed an entrepreneur’s pitch for a preliminary permit.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie. It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a Western Resources Advocates energy policy analyst.

But entrepreneur Aaron Million said he’s undaunted and soliciting bids after investing millions in planning the pipeline. He’ll submit new engineering and pipeline details within two weeks.

And Parker water manager Frank Jaeger is moving ahead with a rival project to divert water from Wyoming. Jaeger said he has 19 water utilities committed — mostly in southern suburbs dependent on depleted underground aquifers.
–The Denver Post

 Environmentalists rip ballast rule 
Ships entering the Great Lakes should be made to kill all the creatures that hitch a ride in their ballast tanks, environmental groups said, challenging as too lax a proposed government standard to combat invasive species.

Zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, round gobies and other invaders brought into the lakes in ships’ ballast water have damaged the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishery and allowed algae – some that produce toxins that foul the world’s largest body of fresh surface water – to flourish.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame put the annual cost of dealing with invasive species such as clearing mussels from clogged water intakes at $200 million. The mussels and other invaders have filtered out plankton at the base of the food web, hurting lake fish species and allowing more sunlight to fuel algae growth.

Environmental groups said they may go to court for a fourth time since the 1990s to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its restrictions on ballast discharge.
–Reuters

Mixed ruling on Florida water standards 
A federal judge has upheld a 2009 formal determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that numeric nutrient standards are necessary for Florida’s waters, but invalidated certain aspects of the water quality criteria the agency developed.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in a mixed decision Feb. 18 said EPA was correct in determining that standards were needed. Hinkle upheld the criteria for lakes and springs, but invalidated the criteria for streams, saying they were arbitrary and capricious.

Moreover, he upheld the decision to adopt downstream protection criteria and upheld some, but not all, of the criteria EPA set.

The judge also backed the EPA administrator’s decision to allow site-specific alternative criteria and the procedures for adopting them. He also upheld a March 6 deadline, or an extended date approved by the court, for the validated portion of the rulemaking. –Bloomberg

Lubber lecture, conservation conference set

February 21, 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.

Don’t forget: Two Freshwater events coming up
Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers. Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.

Lubber, a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will speak at 7 p.m.  in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Dave White, NRCS chief

Dave White

And on March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a conference on precision conservation.

Precision conservation is the science and philosophy of placing conservation practices at spots on the landscape where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improving water quality and soil loss is disproportionately great.

Dave White, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will deliver the luncheon keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.

Peter Gleick admits deceit in climate leak
A prominent environmental researcher, activist and blogger from California admitted that he had deceitfully obtained and distributed confidential internal materials from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group based in Chicago devoted in part to questioning the reality of global warming.

Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, wrote in a statement published on The Huffington Post that he had posed as someone else to get the materials, which include fund-raising and strategy documents intended only for the board and top executives of the group.

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial.

The document release, which lit up the Internet, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute’s efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. The Institute asserted that document, which is in a different format and type style from the rest of the Heartland materials, was a fake, but implicitly acknowledged that others were legitimate and vowed to legally pursue those who stole and published them.

In his statement, Dr. Gleick said he had received the dubious strategy paper anonymously in the mail this year. He said he did not know the source of the document but said he tried to confirm the validity of the document because the disclosures in them would serve to undercut the institute’s mission.

“In an effort to do so,” he wrote, “and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”
–The New York Times

Pricing alternative zebra mussel strategies 
There’s one way to slow – really slow – the spread of invasive zebra mussels in their steady campaign to populate all of Minnesota’s waters.

The simple plan, which some have off-handedly suggested: require boat inspections at every launch. Cost: $2,300 per boat owner, on average.

Oh. Guess that won’t happen.  That sobering price tag is one of several such figures contained in a new Department of Natural Resources report examining what it would actually cost to combat the little enemy mollusks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Snuffbox mussel is endangered 
 A small mussel that’s found in the St. Croix River and few other places has been declared endangered by the federal government.

The snuffbox mussel has disappeared from 62 percent of the streams where it was historically found. The survival of this native mussel — which can live for decades — is threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, due in part to pollution and sedimentation. Non-native zebra mussels are also a threat.

The National Park Service is raising snuffbox mussels and releasing them in the gorge area of Mississippi River Pool 2 in St. Paul, where water conditions have improved in recent years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama proposes cut in EPA aid to states
 President Obama proposed a fiscal year 2013 budget containing $8.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $105 million decrease from fiscal 2012 achieved through cuts to state wastewater treatment and drinking water funds.

The proposed 1.2 percent decrease in EPA funding would mostly come from reduced funding for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, which provide capitalization grants to states for loans for water infrastructure. The president’s budget also would reduce funding for superfund cleanup efforts and eliminate a clean diesel grant program and replace it with a combination of rebates and grants. The budget proposal contains increased funding for priority programs, including a large increase for state and tribal air quality and water pollution programs.

While overall assistance to states would decline, EPA’s operating budget would increase under the budget proposal from $3.57 billion in fiscal 2012 to $3.74 billion in fiscal 2013. The proposal would increase funding for targeted water infrastructure and Chesapeake Bay restoration, while maintaining funding levels for leaking underground storage tanks programs and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
–Bloomberg

Bill seeks further permitting changes 
A House committee approved a bill to streamline the environmental review and permitting process. The bill picks up where last year’s streamlining law left off. It would allow project proposers to hire a consultant who can actually draft permits, a job currently in the hands of the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

But Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the state still would have final authority. “No matter what you do in regards to filing your application, the PCA and DNR still have to approve,” Fabian said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Texas research downplays ‘fracking’ threat 
The concern that hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas is contaminating groundwater is overstated, claims a new report.

Researchers reviewing the available data in the US found nothing to suggest “fracking” had a unique problem. Rather, they suggest the contamination events that do arise are just as likely to afflict other types of oil and gas drilling operations.

The claims were made at the annual AAAS conference in Vancouver, Canada. Charles “Chip” Groat, associate director of Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, led the study. “The bottom line conclusion of our study is that in the states we investigated, we found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself, the practice of fracturing the rocks, had contaminated shallow groundwater,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.
–BBC News

Taconite plant to pay air pollution penalty
Northshore Mining Co. has agreed to pay a $240,175 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) for air-quality violations that the MPCA says occurred at the company’s taconite-processing plant in Silver Bay. The violations were for emissions of excessive amounts of very fine dust that is unhealthy to breathe. Northshore is also taking steps to prevent future violations, including emission-control improvements at its large taconite pellet storage yard.

Between November 2010 and May 2011, ambient air quality monitors located between the taconite pellet storage yard and the Silver Bay marina measured violations of permit limits for particulate matter, or dust, smaller than 10 microns (PM10) in width, or about one-fourth the diameter of a human hair. Dust deposits were also documented at the Silver Bay marina. PM10-size dust is one of the federal and state governments’ health-based standards that help determine the levels where exposure can compromise human health.
–MPCA News Release

Sustainability pioneer sentenced to prison
A pioneer of the sustainable business movement, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with asbestos-related deaths at his former company, Eternit AG.

A court in Turin, Italy, ruled that Schmidheiny and lead Eternit shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier were partially responsible for hundreds of deaths and illnesses caused by asbestos in Eternit factories. They were also sentenced to pay damages, which reportedly could reach past 250 million euros ($330 million), to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.

Schmidheiny announced in 1978 that Eternit would stop making products with asbestos, when he became president of its board of directors. Half of production was asbestos-free by 1984, and the company last used asbestos minerals a decade later, according to Eternit AG’s website. The company closed its Italian facilities in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos.

Schmidheiny is also the founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides a forum for 200 member companies with combined revenue of more than $7 trillion “to develop innovative tools that change the status quo,” according to the website of the Geneva-based group. He founded the council after Maurice Strong, then secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, appointed Schmidheiny as his principal advisor on business and industry “to represent the voice of business” at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
–Bloomburg

China faces water quality, quantity woes
China faces a tougher situation in water resources in the future as demand increases amid the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization, an official said at a press conference. Hu Siyi, vice minister of water resources, said water shortages, serious river pollution and the deteriorating aquatic ecology are “quite outstanding” and may threaten the country’s sustainable growth. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China now consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources, Hu said.

“Because of the grave situation, we must put in place the strictest water resources management system,” he said. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the average per capita of water resources is only 2,100 cubic meters annually, or about 28 percent of the world’s average level.
–ChinaDaily

Dates not to miss, pythons and butterflies

February 6, 2012

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

DNR proposes boat trailer permitting 
Minnesota’s 800,000 boat owners would have to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re envisioning it would be an online training course,” said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species specialist. “This would be required training so boaters know the laws and what they need to do to prevent the spread of invasive species.”

Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have the pass the course. Also, fines for those caught violating invasive species laws would be doubled — all part of increased efforts by the DNR to slow the spread of invading critters to Minnesota’s waters.

Some measures will be implemented this season, including random roadside boat checks and a requirement that boat owners place free DNR stickers on their boats spelling out invasive species requirements. But the training requirement proposal wouldn’t kick in until 2015, under the proposed bill.
–The Star Tribune

Important events in March
Put these three important dates on your calendar:

  • March 1. Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to persuade and pressure multinational companies to adopt sustainable business practices, will give a free public lecture. The lecture is titled “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship into the Bottom Line.” Learn more and register to reserve your place at the lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • March 17. The Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor Watershed Solutions Summit 2012, at Normandale Community College. Learn more.
  • March 29. Precision Conservation is the science and art of putting conservation practices at the places on the landscape where they will do the most good. The Freshwater Society, with the assistance of a number of partners, will sponsor a conference aimed at Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, Watershed District managers, county commissioners and others who care deeply about protecting water quality. Dave White, the national chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will deliver the keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.
Darby Nelson book a finalist for award

Darby Nelson

Darby Nelson

For Love of Lakes, a new book by Darby Nelson, is a finalist in this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. Nelson, a member of the Freshwater Society Board of Directors, is a longtime conservationist, a retired environmental science professor and a former Minnesota legislator. His book, a collection of first-person essays about lakes in Minnesota and across the United States, was published by the Michigan State University Press. It is one of four finalists in the memoir and creative nonfiction category. The winners will be announced April 14. Learn more about For Love of Lakes and read its introduction. Learn more about the Book Awards and vote on-line in the People’s Choice category.

Mercury rules an issue in taconite plant dispute 
Iron Range officials expressed frustration with Magnetation Inc. over the company’s threats to build an iron ore pelletizing plant in another state. But company officials say it’s Minnesota’s tough pollution rules that are forcing them to look elsewhere.

State Rep. Tom Rukavina and St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson say they are upset that the company is considering building the $300 million plant somewhere other than the Iron Range, especially after Minnesota invested heavily in helping Magnetation get started.

Magnetation is considering sites in Superior, Indiana and Illinois in addition to Itasca County for the plant that will employ about 150 people.

“To me, it’s embarrassing that a guy who got $1 million of free taxpayer money from Minnesota would even consider going to another state,’’ Rukavina said, referring to a $1 million grant Magnetation’s CEO Larry Lehtinen received in 2008 from the Minnesota Minerals 21st Century Fund administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
-The Duluth News Tribune.

GOP seeks environmental permitting changes 
Republicans in the state Legislature are advancing a new set of initiatives to overhaul environmental regulation.

The measures come after they reached accord last year with Gov. Mark Dayton on a sweeping bill that streamlined the environmental permitting process. That bill was a noteworthy but ultimately fleeting act of bipartisanship. Now, backed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and opposed by environmental organizations, a second round of permitting legislation passed in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote.

The bill picks up where the 2011 legislation left off. Last year’s legislation allowed businesses to submit their own environmental reviews of projects for consideration by state regulators. This year’s bill, sponsored by Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, proposes to allow companies to hire an outside consultant to prepare environmental permits. The applications would ultimately be approved or rejected by the state Pollution Control Agency.
–Politics in Minnesota

China arrests 8 in massive pollutant spill
China has detained another company official, bringing the total to eight, over a massive river pollution case in the country’s south, the government and state media said. Industrial waste — including toxic cadmium — polluted up to a 300-kilometre (190-mile) section of the Longjiang River in the Guangxi region and threatened drinking water supplies for millions of people.

Police have detained eight executives from two firms, Jinhe Mining Co. and Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Materials Factory, according to a statement from Hechi city, where the pollution originated. Authorities were seeking another four people who had fled, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted Hechi Mayor He Xinxing as saying.
–AFP

Pythons swallowing up Everglades mammals
Precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Burmese python caught in 2009

15-foot, 162-pound Burmese python. Photo, Mike Rochford, University of Fla.

The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.

Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected. The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest. In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.

“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
–USGS News Release

‘Loophole’ might shield Sherco emissions
Environmental groups called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close a “loophole” in new air pollution rules that would let the oldest coal-fired units at Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant forgo expensive retrofitting.

Sherco, located in Becker, 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, is the state’s largest power plant, capable of producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1.8 million households. But the plant burns 30,000 tons of coal a day, and the environmental groups say its emissions are the main contributor to the haze that hangs over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other natural areas.

Estimates for the cost of retrofitting the Sherco plant range from less than $50 million to several hundred million dollars.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Health Department sets forum on drinking water 
The Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program will hold a public forum on drinking water and the department’s effort to explore potential contaminants.

The forum will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the department’s Snelling Office Park,  1645 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul.

The Forum is open to anyone concerned about protecting the state’s water resources from contaminants. It is an opportunity to share information related to contaminants of emerging concern and to learn more about CEC program activities.

If you have questions or would like to participate via the Web, contact Michele Ross at michele.ross@state.mn.us or 651-201-4927. Learn more about Advisory Forum . Read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Pamela Shubat, who directs the Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.

Karner blue butterfly
Photo: Phil Delphey, USFWS

Rare butterfly an issue for Wisconsin sand mines
In the sand barrens of Wisconsin lives an endangered blue butterfly. Its range overlaps almost perfectly with the sand that’s become a lucrative part of a boom in natural gas drilling. And to kill a Karner blue without a permit violates federal law. But of the dozens of frac sand companies that have descended upon the area, just one, Unimin, has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources to be able to legally destroy Karner blues in its operations, according to David Lentz, who coordinates the agency’s Karner blue butterfly habitat conservation plan. And only four companies have contacted the agency’s Bureau of Endangered Resources directly.
–The Fond du Lac Reporter

Elephants in Australia?
 Australia could introduce large herbivores such as elephants as part of a radical biological solution to the problem of bushfires and invasive species, says one expert.

The argument is laid out in a provocative commentary from Dr David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, and is published in Nature magazine.

“I’m being as provocative as possible to try and wake everybody up to say, ‘Look, what is currently happening is not sustainable. We have to think outside the square,'” Dr Bowman said.

He says the short-term programs designed to address Australia’s serious problems with bushfires and invasive species are piecemeal, costly and ineffective.

For example, he says, they are not succeeding in controlling the invasive gamba grass that leads to frequent intense fires in Australia’s north.

“It’s out of control,” he said. “Last year we had a fire in the outback in Central Australia the size of Tasmania. These things are very bad.”
–Asia Pacific News

 

Precision conservation; water re-use

January 30, 2012

Precision Conservation conference set March 29

NRCS chief Dave White
Dave White

Precision conservation effectively and efficiently targets scarce resources to the spots on the landscape where they will do the most good. Learn about the latest technology — much of it

based on LiDAR scanning – that pinpoints “sweet spots” where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a day-long conference: “Precision Conservation: Technology Redefining Local Water Quality Practices.”

The keynote address will be delivered by Dave White, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Dr. David Mulla, a University of Soil Scientist and a pioneer in employing modern LiDAR-based technology in the service of conservation, will describe current and emerging strategies.

The conference will focus both on technology — much of it derived from vastly improved terrain mapping developed from Light Detection and Ranging laser scanning — and the decision-making process by which policy-makers choose where to employ their time, energy and scarce financial resources.

Who should attend? Watershed District managers, Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, county commissioners, water planners and policy-makers.

Report explores water re-use
Each day, American municipalities discharge treated wastewater back into natural sources at a rate that would fill an empty Lake Champlain within six months.

Growing pressure on water supplies and calls for updating the ancient subterranean piping infrastructure have brought new scrutiny to this step in the treatment process, which is labeled wasteful and unnecessary by a spectrum of voices.

“As the world enters the 21st century, the human community finds itself searching for new  paradigms for water supply and management,” says a report releasedby the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report investigates the potential for establishing a more resilient national water supply through the direct recycling of municipal wastewater.

“Law and practice have always been that water goes back into a river or into groundwater or the ocean before it returns for further treatment,” said Brent Haddad, founder and director of the  Center for Integrated Water Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of  the committee that wrote the report. The critical question, he said, is “whether that natural stage of treatment is actually an efficient stage of treatment.”
–The New York Times

Don’t forget: Mindy Lubber to lecture March 1 
Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers. Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.

As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets. In 2011, she was voted one of “the 100 most influential people in corporate governance” by Directorship Magazine.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Minnesota joins effort to protect L. Winnipeg
Minnesota, North Dakota and Manitoba are planning to work together to fix an expanding dead zone in Lake Winnipeg.

The lake is a major fishery in Manitoba, but it’s health is declining because of nutrients like phosphorus flowing in through the Red River. The nutrients cause large algae blooms.

The problem has been building for decades, said Lance Yohe, Red River Basin Commission executive director.

“The new research is indicating we’re getting closer and closer to a tipping point where the lake would start to deteriorate rather fast,” he said. “If we solve the problem and make progress, this is the best tool to do that.” The Red River drains a large area, and the first step is to identify where nutrients are coming from, Yohe said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Carver County joining zebra mussel fight
Beginning May 15, all boats entering Lake Minnewashta in Carver County will be inspected for zebra mussels in the most ambitious effort yet in the state to prevent the invasive pests from infesting a lake.

It marks the first time that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has authorized a local government to take over such a program, with authority to require inspections and deny boat launching if necessary.

County commissioners voted 3-2to pay half of the $31,000 cost for daily inspections. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District will pay the rest.

The partnership could become a model for other lakes in the southwest metro county, as well as those in other counties. It comes at a time when some lakeshore owners and others are desperately trying to devise local efforts to stop zebra mussels, which have infested about two dozen lakes in the state, including heavily trafficked Lake Minnetonka in 2010.
–The Star Tribune

Tons of Asian carp seized in Canada
Almost 6.3 tonnes of Asian carp, an invasive species no one wants in the Great Lakes, has been seized at the Windsor-Detroit border in the last three weeks. That’s alarming, University of Windsor professor and aquatic invasive species expert Hugh MacIsaac said.

“The Americans have put $78 million into trying to detect where the fish are and to make sure they don’t get into the Great Lakes at Chicago,” said MacIsaac. “And here on the other hand we still have people shipping these things around as though it’s legal and advisable, and it’s neither.”

Since 2005, it’s been illegal to possess live Asian carp in Ontario. Over fives tonnes of Asian carp, some of them alive, was seized on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. That came about two weeks after nearly 1.2 tonnes of live Asian carp was seized at the border Jan. 9, Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski said.
–Postmedia News

MPCA seeks comment on Anoka County lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Peltier Lake, Centerville Lake, and the lakes in the Lino Lakes chain (George Watch, Marshan, Reshanau, Rice and Baldwin lakes) in Anoka County.

The MPCA has identified these lakes as impaired because of their high levels of phosphorus. Lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to algal overgrowth, which interferes with swimming, fishing and recreation.

The MPCA, in partnership with the Rice Creek Watershed District, has determined that the phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake must be reduced by up to 85 percent to meet state water quality standards. For this chain of lakes, much of the phosphorus load comes from internal sources, such as rough fish (carp) and decaying vegetation. Therefore, the studies recommend managing populations of fish and aquatic plants in the lakes to control the internal phosphorus load.

Local initiatives to improve the management of stormwater will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into Peltier Lake. Focus on this upstream lake will be critical for success in restoring the downstream lakes. Part of the study included an evaluation of historic phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake.

The MPCA has proposed assessing Peltier Lake in comparison to its natural background level of phosphorus, rather than using the more stringent state water quality standard. George Watch, Marshan, Rice and Baldwin lakes, since they are downstream of Peltier, would also use the natural background condition as their standard.

The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load report, or TMDL, may be viewed on line. For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak (email chris.zakak@state.mn.us ; phone 651-757-2837), MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194.
–MPCA News Release

DNR begins moose count 
Recent snowfall in northeastern Minnesota has allowed for the start of the 2012 aerial moose survey, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The annual survey, which has been conducted every year since 1960, provides critical data needed to determine the size of the moose population and to set the number of moose hunting permits.

Observers from the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, the 1854 Treaty Authority, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered in Ely to begin the survey, which is expected to last two to three weeks, depending on the weather.

Forty-nine survey plots randomly scattered across the survey area will be flown. This includes the addition of nine specially selected “habitat” plots that will be studied to determine how moose respond to recent wildfires, prescribed burns and timber management.
–DNR News Release

Research: PFCs impact immune systems 
Children exposed to the same common household chemicals that have contaminated groundwater near a number of 3M Co. sites in the St. Paul suburbs have weakened immune systems that make them more vulnerable to infections, according to research.

The study is the first to confirm the suspected link between immune function and PFCs, a family of compounds used in everything from Teflon pans to microwave popcorn bags.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it’s the latest in a growing number of scientific studies raising questions about the health implications of the compounds, which have become ubiquitous in the environment, animals and people.

The chemicals are of particular concern in the east metro area, where groundwater and drinking water were contaminated after 3M made and used the compounds for decades at its Cottage Grove plant to make products like Scotchgard, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. 3M stopped using the chemicals in 2002.

But many people who live nearby have elevated levels of the compounds in their blood — significantly higher than do the Scottish children who were studied in the research published by JAMA. That means their immune systems could be even more affected, Minnesota health officials said.
–The Star Tribune

Garden chart recognizes warmer winters
It’s still too cold for Japanese maples and flowering dogwoods, but warmer winters have shifted the Twin Cities into a new plant-hardiness zone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The Twin Cities used to be Zone 4A, which meant winter temperatures plunged as low as 30 degrees below zero. Now the USDA places the Twin Cities in Zone 4B, which means winter temperatures drop as low as minus 25 degrees.

The move to a slightly balmier zone comes after the USDA recalculated its map with newer weather data for the first time since 1990. Two decades of gradually warmer winters have shifted most of Minnesota – and much of the United States – one notch higher on the USDA’s plant-hardiness charts.

The zones depict the lowest winter temperatures for each region and are used to advise gardeners which plants are safe to buy. “The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lubber to lecture on sustainability’s bottom line

January 23, 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.

Leader on corporate sustainability to lecture

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers.

Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change. As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Conservation Minnesota analyzes spending
So how did environmental programs fare in the budget deals that ended the shutdown of Minnesota government last summer?

Not so well, according to a new 23-page analysis prepared by Conservation Minnesota, the latest in a series of such reviews the group has conducted since 2002.

The 2008 Legacy Amendment  specified that revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters for the environment, clean water and arts and culture “must supplement traditional sources of funding for those purposes and may not be used as a substitute.” The Conservation Minnesota analysis does not directly answer the legal question whether that provision was violated during last year’s budget deals, but the title of the analysis is pointed: “If it Looks Like a Duck…”

The executive summary of the analysis states: “There are increasingly frequent instances where the Legislature has used Legacy funds to backfill budget cuts, raising concerns that the intended benefits of Legacy funds may erode over time.”

State, feds sign ag pollution agreement
 The State of Minnesota, the federal Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 17 signed an agreement to develop a new program to encourage farmers to meet still-to-be-defined standards for preventing erosion and pollutant runoff from their fields and feedlots.

Under the program, farmers who take part and meet the standards would receive a guarantee that they would not later be subject to more stringent standards for up to 10 years.

The agreement was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

Read about the agreement in the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, a Dayton news release, a USDA news release. And read a Minnesota Environmental Partnership news release questioning the agreement and the concept of providing farmers safe harbor from future regulation.  Read a recent report to the EPA from the agency’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee that recommends the EPA encourage such “certainty” agreements. Read the memorandum of understanding signed by Dayton.

Report details nitrogen pollution of air, water
Read a new article on nitrogen escaping into the air and water. The research paper, titled Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions, was published by the Ecological Society of America.

  •  Key findings include:  Forty to 60 percent of the world’s population depends on crops grown with synthetic nitrogen.
  • About half of the nitrogen used in agriculture escapes into the environment.
  • More than 1.5 million Americans drink water that exceeds, or comes close to exceeding, health standards.
  • Nitrogen pollution warms the climate through nitrous oxide emissions, but cools it by promoting the growth of hardwood trees, which sequester carbon dioxide. On balance, the cooling effect is greater.
  • U.S. use of nitrogen fertilizer increased rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, then slowed. Since 1978, nitrogen fertilizer use has increased by about six-tenths of a percent annually. During that yields of corn, a major user of nitrogen, have increased 1.9 percent per year.

The report says that current strategies exist within the “current agricultural system, that – if practiced —  could reduce nitrogen losses from agriculture by 30 to 50 percent.

Report: There is good news on acid rain
 Measurable improvements in air quality and visibility, human health, and water quality in many acid-sensitive lakes and streams, have been achieved through emissions reductions from electric generating power plants and resulting decreases in acid rain. These are some of the key findings in a report to Congress by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, a cooperative federal program.

The report shows that since the establishment of the Acid Rain Program, under Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there have been substantial reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from power plants that use fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, which are known to be the primary causes of acid rain. As of 2009, emissions of SO2 and NOx declined by about two-thirds relative to levels in the 1990s. These emissions levels declined even further in 2010, according to recent data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Because emission reductions result in fewer fine particles and lower ozone concentrations in the air, in 2010 there were thousands fewer premature human deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits annually leading to estimated human health benefits valued at $170 to $430 billion per year.
–USGS News Release

USDA promotes pollution credit trading 
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a funding opportunity that will bring states, USDA and other stakeholders together to enhance the effectiveness of water quality credit trading. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is providing up to $10 million in Conservation Innovation Grants for these projects, with up to $5 million focused on water quality credit trading in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Proposals for projects are due March 2, 2012.

“For the first time USDA has offered funding specifically for water quality trading. We want to help states and other partners develop robust and meaningful markets,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to demonstrate that markets are a cost-effective way to improve water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and agricultural producers are critical to the function of these markets.”

Water quality credit trading is a market-based approach to lowering the costs of reducing pollution, and has the potential to engage more farmers and ranchers in water quality improvement efforts through the implementation of more conservation practices on agricultural lands. Through water quality credit trading, a producer who implements conservation practices to reduce water quality pollutants can also benefit by generating water quality market credits that could be sold in an open market, which would reduce the costs of implementing and maintaining the conservation practices.
–PoliticalNews

Dayton urges $$ for Lutsen snow-making 
The bonding proposal announced by Gov. Mark Dayton includes $3.6 million to build a water pipeline from Lake Superior to the Lutsen Mountains ski resort. Lutsen Mountains currently pumps water from the Poplar River, a designated trout stream, to make snow for skiing.

Despite low water levels, the DNR issued Lutsen a permit last fall to pump 150 million gallons per year. In exchange, the agency told the ski area to find another water source by 2014.

The governor’s proposal would provide water to the ski resort, a golf course, resorts and private homes.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama wants more time to mull pipeline
The Obama administration refused to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying a congressionally imposed deadline left too little time to evaluate routes that would avoid an aquifer in Nebraska.

In rejecting the permit, however, the State Department said Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. can reapply to build the link between oil sands in Alberta and Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the company was disappointed but will reapply after mapping another route around the Ogallala aquifer, a source for drinking and irrigation water, later this year.

The pipeline has been an election year lightning rod across the political spectrum. Republican and industry leaders are painting the pipeline as creating jobs and boosting U.S. energy security. Environmentalists and many Democrats argue that the pipeline would promote a particularly polluting form of crude oil and could threaten water supplies.
–The Houston Chronicle

California suit focuses on sucker fish 
A federal plan to preserve more than 9,000 acres of river habitat so that the threatened Santa Ana sucker fish can fulfill its complex life cycle has run into stiff resistance from critics who say it jeopardizes development and water supplies in the Inland Empire.

Two cities and 10 water districts have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court over the agency’s decision to preserve the habitat. They say that it imposes restrictions on water conservation, groundwater recharge and flood control operations that affect water supplies for 1 million residents, and that it threatens plans to sell Santa Ana River water to thirsty communities elsewhere.

Environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity, CalTrout, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society responded by filing petitions to intervene in the case on behalf of the federal agency. A hearing on the case has been scheduled for February.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation Stewardship deadline extended
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White announced that the cut-off date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking period has been extended to January 27, 2012. Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP payments.

“We want to make sure that people who want to be considered for CSP during this first ranking period have the time they need to complete their applications,” White said. “CSP is a very popular program and I encourage interested producers to apply at their local NRCS office as soon as they can.”

CSP is offered in all 50 states, tribal lands and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. Administered by NRCS, CSP provides many conservation benefits including improved water and soil quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and conservation activities that address the effects of climate change.
–AgWeb.com