Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’

Conservation Reserve acres to drop

May 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good news/bad news on western water use

June 27, 2011

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

Good news/bad news on western water use
Water conservation efforts in the western US over the past 20 years appear to be paying off.

Major communities that rely partly or completely on the Colorado River for their water have reduced per-capita demand on the river an average of 1 percent or more each year between 1990 and 2008, according to a new study. In all, that’s some 2 million acre-feet of water saved – enough to supply Los Angeles for about three years.

But as populations grow, per-capita efficiency isn’t enough. Communities are still siphoning ever-larger amounts of water from the river.

 During the study period, the volume of water drawn from the Colorado River – by 100 municipal and regional water authorities – grew by 5 percent, even as the amount they drew from all sources rose by 10 percent, according to the report, which was issued by the Pacific Institute, a water-resource policy group based in Oakland, Calif.

 The increased demand was fueled by a population that blossomed from around 25 million in 1990 to 35 million by the end of the study period.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 Oceans are in great peril, report concludes
The state of the oceans is declining far more rapidly than most pessimists had expected, an international team of experts has concluded, increasing the risk that many marine species — including those that make coral reefs — could be extinct within a generation.

 The scientists, who gathered in April at the University of Oxford, cited the cumulative impact of the stresses on the oceans, which include ocean acidification related to growing carbon dioxide emissions, a global warming trend that is reducing the polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing.

‘‘This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted,’’ they wrote in the report.

 The April workshop, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean in concert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brought scientists from a broad range of disciplines together to talk about the problems in the marine environment and what steps can be taken to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems.
–The New York Times

Western Wisconsin well still controversial
A Crawford County landowner’s proposal to drill a high-capacity well for “emergency water bottling purposes” still worries some neighbors, despite proposed government restrictions designed to mitigate the well’s environmental impacts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued responses to dozens of comments generated by the landowner’s application to drill the high-capacity well. The agency attached a dozen proposed conditions that limit how much water can be extracted and how it can be used.

 Landowner Darrell Long said in his application that he would use the well sporadically to sell bulk water during emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

But neighbors fear he has bigger plans. 

Their concerns stem in part from Internet advertisements in which Long offers bulk spring water under the name Mount Sterling, the name of the nearest municipality.
–The La Crosse Tribune 

EPA criticizes House legislation
U.S. EPA warned of the potential dire consequences of legislation being fast-tracked through the House that would give states final say on rules concerning water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining.

In a four-page legal analysis (pdf), EPA said the measure sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) “would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”

GOP House leaders expect to bring the bill to a floor vote this summer.

EPA said the Mica-Rahall bill would “significantly undermine” the agency’s role of overseeing states’ establishment and enforcement of water pollution limits and permits. It said the measure would hinder EPA’s ability to intervene on behalf of downstream states harmed by pollution coming from a state upstream. And it said the bill would prevent EPA from protecting local communities from ill-conceived mountaintop-removal and similar projects allowed to go forward under Army Corps of Engineers-issued permits.
–The New York Times 

Engineers: Maintenance of  U.S. dams neglected
As the U.S. and China endure record-breaking floods this spring, there is a risk that is being overlooked amidst the inundated towns, evacuations and rising waters. Dams in the U.S. boast an average age of 50 years, and the American Society of Civil Engineers continues to give the nation’s dams a D grade overall in terms of maintenance. Will it take the catastrophic collapse of a dam—like the five in the 1970s in the U.S. that killed hundreds—before the infrastructure is repaired?

The nation’s more than 80,000 dams have served us well—restraining less-than-epic floods and generating billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity for regional grids. In fact, massive dams across the western U.S., like Grand Coulee in Washington state, still provide the vast majority of “renewable” electricity in the U.S., some 7 percent. At the same time, hydropower can help balance more intermittent renewable resources, such as wind power. For example, water can be held back water to cope with “wind droughts,” prolonged periods of little or no wind such as an 11 day wind drought in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year.

But these dams of legend are old. And old dams are in danger of failure—more than 4,000 in the U.S. alone are at high risk of imminent failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
–Scientific America

 Dairy penalized for water pollution
BGR Dairy has agreed to pay a $12,075 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and take corrective actions to address alleged compliance violations at its dairy feedlot operation near Lake Park, in Becker County.

 In November 2010, MPCA staff conducted a compliance inspection at the facility.  They observed noncompliant conditions that included a manure spill next to one of two liquid manure storage areas, lack of depth markers and damage to the liquid-manure-storage areas, three paddocks being used as open lots without MPCA approval and containing pools of manure-contaminated runoff, an unauthorized drain, and an unpermitted barn and associated open lot without runoff controls.  These deficiencies had not been reported to the MPCA as required.  In addition, a review of aerial photos in January 2011 showed an unpermitted expansion of the feed storage area pad occurred between 2008 and 2009.

BGR Dairy has taken steps to correct the alleged deficiencies and must complete all corrective actions by Dec. 1, 2011.  These include allowing no more than 50 head of cattle to have access to two open lots and closing two lots, submitting a complete application for a NPDES/SDS discharge permit, submitting complete plans for managing wastewater from the feed storage area and open lots, and repairing and installing depth markers in the liquid-manure-storage areas.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA offers new advice on rising sea levels
From his government office in Virginia Beach, Clay Bernick can see the future, and that future looks a rather lot like the movie “Waterworld.” 

The sea level is rising in Virginia Beach and the entire area known as Hampton Roads because of the warming climate, and the area also happens to be sinking for other geological reasons. 

Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations. 

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.
–The Washington Post

Mississippi R. levee repairs could cost $2 billion
The federal levee system that prevented an estimated $62 billion in losses during Mississippi River flooding last month sustained a good bit of damage itself, Corps of Engineers officials say.

The corps estimates it’ll take $1 billion to $2 billion to repair and rebuild the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which stretches from Illinois to Louisiana and is the world’s largest flood-control system. The work will include repairing 1,000 sand boils, or seepage areas, and restoring the Missouri levees blown up by the corps to purposely inundate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

“If we don’t restore the system by the next flood season, all the damages that did not happen from the catastrophic flooding this year might happen,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, which oversees the corps’ work.

 But some environmentalists are suggesting a rethinking of the existing levee concept, while a Knoxville advocate for clean water said the levee system is contributing to historic contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.
–The Knoxville News Sentinel/Memphis Commercial Appeal

 California groups oppose pesticide plan
Twenty-five environmental and pubic health groups asked Gov. Jerry Brown to abandon the state’s new plan for eradicating agricultural pests and explore a less toxic approach, such as crop rotation or planting neighboring crops that deter insects.

 The plan, announced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, would abandon the traditional practice of assessing the environmental effects of attacking pests one by one, and instead publish a $3-million comprehensive impact report on eradicating all flies, worms, moths and other insects at once.

 Such a comprehensive report would reduce oversight, according to Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.  “This is a huge state, with many ecosystems and bio-regions, with many threatened or endangered species, and it’s impossible to assess in detail all the implications of all possible pesticides for any pest or future pest” in one report, she said. 
–The Los Angeles Times

 Roseville bans coal tar driveway sealants
Roseville residents could face a fine or imprisonment if they are found guilty of violating a new ordinance passed by the city council.

Coal-tar-based driveway sealants are now banned in the city because they contain carcinogens that can end up in the water.

According to a statement released by the city, approximately 2-4 years after the sealants are laid down on driveways and parking lots they can begin to flake off and be carried to storm water ponds. Because the carcinogens are toxic and damage aquatic life, sediments containing them must be disposed of in a hazardous materials landfill, which taxpayers are ultimately responsible for in terms of cost.

The recommendations to ban coal-tar-based sealants came to the council from city staff and the Public Works, Environment and Transportation Commission. Other communities that are already banning the sealants include Maplewood and White Bear Lake.

 MPCA seeks comment on two Scott County Lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Cedar and McMahon lakes in Scott County.  The lakes were identified as impaired because they contain high levels of phosphorus. Though phosphorus occurs naturally, lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to frequent algal overgrowth.

The MPCA determined that the largest sources of phosphorus in the two lakes are the release of phosphorus attached to sediment particles, decaying vegetation from invasive species like curlyleaf pondweed, and runoff from the lakes’ watersheds.  In Cedar Lake, bottom-feeding carp also stir up sediment, releasing phosphorus into the water.

 The draft report concludes that the phosphorus level of Cedar Lake must be reduced by 85 percent and that of McMahon Lake by 81 percent.

The draft report may be viewed at the MPCA web site.
–MPCA News Release

 Taconite firm seeks Wisconsin law changes
Gogebic Taconite says that it won’t proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state’s review process to construct mines.

 A company official, J. Matthew Fifield, said that Gogebic is poised to spend $20 million to $30 million on the next phase of the project — but only if legislation addressing the specific needs of open-pit mining of iron ore is signed into law, he said.

 “For us to move forward, we need iron mining laws,” said Fifield.

The project would employ 700 workers with an average base pay of $60,000. It would also have a two-year economic impact during construction of $2 billion, according to the company.

 Mining legislation foundered this spring in Madison as deliberations on the two-year budget, collective bargaining for public employees and other issues muscled Gogebic’s interests out of the way.

 Wisconsin’s mining laws were written decades ago to address sulfide mining, which uses chemicals to extract minerals in rock. Iron ore mining relies on water, magnets and mechanical power to extract iron.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Research notes birth defects near mining
Birth defects are more likely to occur in Appalachian counties with mountaintop removal coal mining — including Eastern Kentucky — than in other counties in the region, according to a new study.

The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, suggests that birth defects could result from air and water pollution created by mountaintop removal, including mercury, lead and arsenic, which have been shown to pose risks to fetal development.

The study stops short of blaming mountaintop removal for birth defects. But its authors said they tried to account for other possible causes, such as higher rates of smoking, less education and poorer prenatal care among expectant mothers in mining counties. The common factor seemed to be proximity to the blasting of mountains to remove coal, they said.
–The Lexington Herald-Leader

Atrazine, dairy pollution and sewage rules

October 12, 2009

EPA considers new rules on atrazine
TheEnvironmental Protection Agency plans to conduct a new study about the potential health risks of atrazine,  a widely used weedkiller that recent research suggests may be more dangerous to humans than previously thought.

Atrazine — a herbicide often used on corn fields, golf courses and even lawns — has become one of the most common contaminants in American drinking water.

For years, the E.P.A. has decided against acting on calls to ban the chemical from environmental activists and some scientists who argued that runoff was polluting ecosystems and harming animals.

More recently, new studies have suggested that atrazine in drinking water is associated with birth defects, low birth weights and reproductive problems among humans, even at concentrations that meet current federal standards.
–The New York Times

Complaints persist about Thief River Falls dairy
Eye-watering plumes from a dairy feedlot north of Thief River Falls are a “health hazard,” say authorities, and when the wind shifts nearby families and children must escape the foul air by evacuating, sometimes in the dead of night. Local elected officials have joined a chorus of residents to demand the site be closed, but for two years feedlot owners have sidestepped cleanup orders they consider “a joke.”

The source of the rancid stench, Excel Dairy, still has a permit to operate, and some who’ve endured the nauseating, rotten-egg smelling hydrogen sulfide rising off manure lagoons are wondering why state authorities aren’t more forceful in stopping it.

Petition challenges MPCA oversight of sewage
An environmental group petitioned the federal government to force the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do what it characterizes as a better job issuing permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy contends the state agency hasn’t taken necessary actions against straight-pipe septic systems that dump raw sewage directly into lakes and rivers. It also says the agency has repeatedly issued weaker permits than required by federal law to governments and businesses discharging phosphorus into those water bodies, resulting in excessive algal growth.

The petition asks the Environmental Protection Agency to require the MPCA to correct those matters or take away its authority to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water permits.

“We’re kind of calling for the ref to say, ‘Just a minute. You have some markers you need to meet here,’ ” said Kris Sigford, the advocacy group’s water quality director.

An MPCA spokeswoman said the agency has not had a chance to review the petition in detail, but she added that it appears the issues already have been addressed by Minnesota courts and the Legislature.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Airlines required to monitor drinking water quality
U.S. airlines will be required to regularly disinfect and monitor on-board drinking water systems under a new rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time tailored existing public water monitoring regulations to commercial aircraft.

The change, five years in the making and affecting 63 airlines and 7,300 planes, will replace interim systems for monitoring bacteria and other pathogens that could sicken passengers.

The EPA expects the annual cost to the industry to be about $7 million.

Fight over septic system ends short of jail
A Chanhassen couple, faced with going to jail after a six-year battle with Carver County over their septic system, decided to throw in the towel.

The decision by Janet and Lowell Carlson to fix the septic system will keep them from going to jail Oct. 16 for contempt of court. Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins last week gave them one final chance to make the repairs, estimated to cost at least $10,000.

After the Carlsons bought their farm in 2003, the county ordered them to upgrade the system, saying that it did not have the required 36 inches of separation between its drain field and groundwater on the property. The couple objected, contending there was no indication that the system was leaking or polluting the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Obama orders federal sustainability push
Urging the government to “lead by example,” President Obama ordered federal agencies to set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy use, save water and recycle more.

The order calls for a 30% cut in vehicle fuel use by 2020, a 50% increase in recycling by 2015 and the implementation of high-efficiency building codes.

It also instructs agencies to set goals within 90 days to reduce the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for global warming.

The measures echo a Los Angeles sustainability program launched under the direction of then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who now heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
–The Los Angeles Times

Big phosphorus reductions needed
Storm water carries so much phosphorus into a chain of lakes in Maple Grove and Plymouth that it may take 20 years to get the three lakes off the state’s impaired waters list.

That’s the finding of a new report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency which describes the extent of the pollution in each lake and what can be done to reverse it. The report begins the process of cleaning up the lakes as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

In Eagle Lake, a 291-acre lake popular for fishing and swimming, phosphorus would have to be reduced by 40 percent to meet Clean Water standards for swimming, the report says.
–The Star Tribune

DNR plans new mineral leases
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will hold the state’s 31st sale of metallic minerals exploration and mining leases, tentatively scheduled for January 2010. The lease sale plans are being announced at this time in order to give mining companies, public interest groups and other interested parties additional time to review the areas under consideration.

The areas under consideration for the lease sale cover portions of Aitkin, Benton, Carlson, Itasca, Morrison, Pine and St. Louis counties. The lands being considered have been offered in previous metallic minerals lease sales, but based on the interest shown by industry, new geologic data, and exploration techniques developed during the past few years, officials think there may be potential for the discovery of mineral resources within these lands.

The exact time and place of the lease sale will be announced by legal notice at least 30 days prior to the sale.

A map showing the general areas under consideration is available from the DNR Division of Lands and Minerals, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4045, by phone at 651-259-5959, or by visiting the DNR Web site.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Hydropower plans submitted for Coon Rapids Dam
Renewed efforts are being made to explore whether the Coon Rapids Dam can once again be used to generate electricity.

The dam produced electricity for Northern States Power (NSP) from 1914 to 1966, at which time operations stopped because it was no longer economical to generate electricity at the dam.

Over the years, studies have been undertaken  from time to time to look at whether it would be feasible to return the dam to hydroelectric use, but not to the point of a project being submitted for approval to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Now, two competing applications for preliminary permits have been submitted to the FERC to study the feasibility of a hydroelectric power project at the dam.

One is from Three Rivers Park District and the other is from BOSTI Hydroelectric LLC, Golden Valley.
–ABC Newspapers

Suburbs seek to emulate Burnsville rain gardens
Even now, with fall rushing toward winter, the handsome gardens along Rushmore Drive in Burnsville draw the eye with their maroon sedums, purple asters and waving ornamental grasses.

All the gardens are near the curb, and all drop a foot or two below street level at their lowest point.

They’re rain gardens.
–The Star Tribune

California agencies adopt water diets
As the state enters its fourth straight year of drought, water agencies are putting in place permanent rules to reduce use even after the rains and snow return.

Their directives are aimed at new and renovated developments, businesses and homes.

“There is not a Californian who won’t be affected,” said Tim Quinn, executive director for the Association of California Water Agencies.

By January, cities statewide are supposed to have regulations that limit the amount of water used for landscape irrigation in future commercial and residential projects. In particular, the developers will have to abide by a water “budget” for each property.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Restoring Wisconsin’s wild rice beds
It was silent, except for the sound of rice seed falling on water as still as a mirror.

John Patrick dug his hand into the 50-pound sack of wild rice, stood up in the canoe and threw, repeating the action until the white bag was empty. Some of the seed, which had been harvested a few days before, floated on the surface of Jackson Box Flowage in Douglas County, while some sank to the brown, nutrient-rich bottom.

“You can see it falling down. They’re like missiles heading straight into the muck,” said Patrick, a Bad River tribal member and wild rice assistant for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Wild rice seeds spiral down, where they grab hold of the bottom, germinate and grow tall above the water until someone or something comes along to dislodge them – a human harvesting the tasty grain, or a duck, muskrat, goose or even white-tailed deer looking for a meal.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Florida ag dept. challenges deal on nutrients
Florida’s agriculture commissioner wants to undo a deal between environmental groups and the federal government that would rewrite an important water pollution rule.

Commissioner Charles Bronson asked a federal judge last week to let the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services join an ongoing lawsuit and fight the agreement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed in August to set clear-cut numeric limits on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus – the nutrients that feed algae in the St. Johns River – allowed in Florida’s rivers and creeks. Florida uses rules that describe what’s allowed, but not nutrient numbers.

Agriculture officials say what’s planned is scientifically unsound and could put some farmers out of business by raising costs to manage fertilizer and animal manure.
–The Florida Times-Union

Carleton, Mac and UM honored for sustainability

Carleton College is one of only 26 higher education institutions nationwide to receive an A- on the College Sustainability Report Card 2010.

The group rated Carleton an “A” in the categories of food and recycling, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, and investment priorities. The report card graded Carleton a “B” in administration, climate change, and energy and green building.

Carleton was one of three Minnesota higher education institutions to receive an overall “A-“ grade, joined by Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, on the top-performers list. Carleton has received a top grade of “A-“ the last three years, the only Minnesota school to earn that distinction.
–Carleton news release

Exxon appeals verdict in gasoline leak
Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil company found responsible for a 26,000-gallon leak of gasoline into the groundwater of a northern Baltimore County neighborhood in 2006, filed an appeal  of a trial verdict that awarded $150 million to a group of residents affected by the spill.

“We agree with the jury’s finding that this incident was an unfortunate accident and not a fraudulent or intentional act,” said Kevin M. Allexon, a spokesman for the company. “We believe, however, that compensation should be limited to actual harm caused by the spill, and the jury’s verdict goes well beyond reasonable compensation.”

Neighbors of the Jacksonville service station from which the leak originated filed suit against Exxon when it became clear that the area’s groundwater, which supplies homeowners’ wells and household needs, had been contaminated by the leak.
–The Baltimore Sun

Minnesota research probes endocrine disruptors

September 30, 2009

A major Minnesota research project – paid for by the sales tax increase voters approved last year, and conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and St. Cloud State University – is investigating one of the newest, least understood and most troubling types of water pollution: Endocrine disrupting compounds.

The $896,000 project began sampling water  at 22 sewage treatment plants around the state in early September.

greene for cover250  

A number of studies have shown the compounds “feminize” male fish. Some scientists suspect they also cause human ills such as decreased sperm counts, increased genital and urinary birth defects in boys and increases in obesity, diabetes and testicular cancer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this week issued a report, Statewide Endocrine Disrupting Compound Monitoring Study, 2007 – 2008, that details the results of previous testing for EDCs in the water and sediment of four rivers and 12 lakes. The research found evidence of  EDC contamination in lakes — including two pristine lakes near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Itasca — that had no connection to any wastewater treatment plants.

Until this research, many scientists had concentrated on treatment plants as the major conduit of EDCs to surface waters.

Vitellogenin, a protein associated with egg making that normally is found in measurable quantities only in female fish, was found in male fish caught in several of the lakes, including the two pristine lakes.

Follow these links to read about the study now under way at the 22 treatment plants, to see a summary of other research on EDCs in Minnesota over the last 15 years and to read an interview with a Minnesota Health Department expert on the compounds and human health. Those articles, and others, appear in the September issue of Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s quarterly newsletter.

Volunteers monitor Minnesota’s waters

March 26, 2009

(This  article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. The newsletter is available at

Last year, on about 1,500 lakes across Minnesota, volunteers leaned over the side of their boats and lowered a white metal disk into the water, carefully measuring how deep the disk descended until it vanished from view.

In addition, the volunteers filled out a checklist of subjective judgments about the lake water: Was it crystal clear? Was there floating scum or dead fish in the water? Did the water look inviting for swimming or boating? Or was there such heavy algae growth that any enjoyment of the lake was impossible?

Other volunteers in other places lowered buckets into rivers to collect water samples, filled their home refrigerators or freezers with small bottles of river and lake water that would later be analyzed to determine its nitrogen and phosphorus content and waded into wetlands to collect dragonflies, leeches and beetles.

Thirty-five years ago, Minnesota began one of the first volunteer water quality monitoring program in the country. That effort, the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, remains one of the largest such programs in the country. And it has now been joined by dozens of other lake, river and wetland monitoring efforts that encourage volunteers to get their feet and hands wet in the pursuit of clean, healthy water.

The programs have two major goals.

First, there is the science. The thousands of volunteers take far more water clarity readings and collect far more water samples than the full-time scientists and technicians employed by governmental bodies, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and local soil and water boards, ever could handle.

A recent surge in the use of volunteers to collect water samples has helped the PCA speed up a slow process aimed at assessing the water quality in more than 12,000 lakes and about 105,000 miles of streams and rivers every 10 years. Big increases in water quality spending approved by the Legislature in recent years paid for lab analysis of the samples.

The low-tech Secchi Disk readings made by those volunteers leaning over the sides of their canoes and pontoon boats also help make possible a much higher-tech monitoring system. The clarity readings logged by the volunteers are used to calibrate images sent to Earth by satellites that pass over Minnesota.

As important as the scientific data, is the direct interest in water quality and the commitment to preserving it that the volunteer activity fosters in the volunteers.

“There’s value beyond the value of the data that’s collected in the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, said Johanna Schussler, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s coordinator of the program. “These are the people who support water quality initiatives. These are the people who volunteer, who write letters.”

And what do the volunteers get out of participating in the various programs?

For Gordon Prickett, a former mining engineer who joined the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program in 1997, soon after he bought his retirement home on the north side of Nord Lake in Aitkin County, the question is an easy one.

“I see myself as a steward here,” Prickett. “The longer we live here, the more I’m interested in conservation and preservation. I’m interested in preserving the quality of the lake for future generations, as well as my own.”

Minnesota’s first volunteer water-quality program was begun in 1973 by a University of Minnesota professor, Joe Shapiro. The MPCA assumed responsibility for the program in 1978.

That is the Citizen Lake Monitoring Project that Schussler coordinates. Last year, it had 1,260 volunteers who tested water quality at 1,700 sites on about 1,200 lakes. From the beginning, the program has relied on a simple device, the Secchi Disk, to measure clarity, a basic indicator of water quality, especially the level of algae present in a lake.

The Secchi disk – named after Pietro Angelo Secchi, a 19 th Century Jesuit astronomer who developed the device to measure the transparency of oceans and lakes — is a white, or sometimes black-and-white, metal disk, about the size of a salad plate that is attached to a cord marked off in feet or meters.

Volunteers are instructed to lower the Secchi disk into the lake and note when it disappears from view. They then raise the disk a bit until it is again just visible, note that depth and then average the two readings. The volunteers also fill out a questionnaire rating the lake’s general appearance on a scale that ranges from “crystal clear” to “massive floating scums…foul odor or fish kill.”

The volunteers are asked to take their readings on their appointed lakes eight to 10 times a summer, preferably weekly from June through September.

Typically, the clarity readings the volunteers record with the Secchi disks are lowest in mid-summer, when algae growth is the greatest. The Secchi readings are posted each year in the MPCA’s Environmental Data Access data base.

In addition to the basic Secchi disk monitoring, the MPCA funds four other citizen monitoring programs:

  • A sub-set of the basic Secchi disk monitoring program that is specifically tailored for canoeists visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Canoeists receive a light-weight Secchi disk with a little mesh bag on the bottom of it that they weight down with rocks.
  • A Citizen Stream Monitoring Program, begun in 1988, that last year sent about 500 volunteers to about 800 locations on rivers and streams throughout Minnesota. The volunteers generally use a bucket to take a sample of water and then measure its clarity. But, instead of a Secchi disk, they use a transparency tube. That’s a clear tube with a centimeter scale printed on it that the volunteers fill with river or stream water. Then they let water run out of valve on the bottom until they can see a symbol printed on the base of the tube.

The river and stream monitors are asked to visit their sampling stations once a week, from April through September, and after heavy rains. The clarity readings they make with their transparency tubes are used by the MPCA to estimate the level of turbidity caused by suspended solids – sediment, organic material and algae –in the water.

  • A relatively new lake monitoring effort, called the Advanced Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, in which volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to monitoring by taking Secchi readings for two years, receive additional training and more-sophisticated equipment and are asked to undertake expanded testing on selected lakes.

In that program, the volunteers take Secchi readings and note their observations of water conditions. In addition, they use a probe and a hand-held meter to measure the temperature of the water and the level of oxygen dissolved in it. Then they take a 2-liter sample of lake water and pour off some of the sample into a small bottle whose contents later will be analyzed at a state laboratory to determine how much phosphorus and nitrogen it contains.

Later, onshore, the volunteers pump more of the lake water through a filter and then place the filter in a petri dish, which they are asked to store in their home refrigerators until the samples are delivered to a lab. Analysis of the filter tells how much chlorophyll was in the water, a measure of algae.

  • An extensive series of partnerships in which the MPCA provides up to $2 million a year to about 40 public and private organizations – soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, counties, college and universities and associations of lakeshore owners — to recruit volunteers, and in some cases assign paid staff members, to collect data on lakes and rivers and to contract with private labs to analyze samples.

That testing yields data on clarity, E-coli bacteria, chloride, ammonia, suspended solids, phosphorus, nitrogen and chlorophyll. The PCA contracts with Minnesota Waters, a nonprofit group, to train participants in that program.

In addition to the MPCA’s water monitoring program, the Metropolitan Council has had an extensive lake monitoring program for more than 25 years. That program now tests water quality in about 200 lakes across the seven-county metro area. The council works with about 35 local partners – cities, counties and watershed districts — to recruit, train and supervise volunteers.

The local partners provide the equipment and pay for laboratory analysis. The volunteers conduct Secchi readings and collect samples in a monitoring procedure that is similar to the Pollution Control Agency’s advanced monitoring.

The Met Council posts the test results in its electronic Environmental Management System, and the lakes are graded each year – A through F – based on their average readings for clarity and phosphorus and chlorophyll content.

Volunteers also do extensive environmental monitoring in wetlands in two metro counties: Dakota and Hennepin. Participating cities in the two counties pay the cost of the monitoring, and the MPCA provides training.

That project, called the Wetland Health Evaluation Program, sends volunteers into wetlands in June and July.

In June, the volunteers, working in teams of five to 20 people, set bottle traps and use dip nets to capture macro-invertebrate organisms such as dragonflies, mayflies, leeches, snails and beetles. They classify, inventory and record the populations they find.

In July, the volunteers re-visit the wetlands, mark off 100-square-meter plots and inventory the plant species there.

All the data on the invertebrates and the plants are converted into two indices of biological integrity. Each wetland that is monitored is rated on a three-point scale – poor, moderate, excellent – for both macro-invertebrates and vegetation.

In Dakota County, about 120 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands last year. In Hennepin, about 80 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands.

Helen Goeden of Apple Valley and her husband, Colin Brownlow, and their children have been volunteering in the program since about 2000. Goeden estimated she spent about 25 hours, spread across seven or eight evenings, working in the program last summer.

Goeden, a Minnesota Health Department research scientist who spends her working hours developing standards for ground water purity, said she chooses to devote part of her free time to the wetlands monitoring because it allows her to share her passion for the environment with her kids and because she thinks all types of water are under-appreciated.

“People treat water like it’s free, but it’s probably the most precious resource we have,” she said.

  • The MPCA’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Program has volunteers testing clarity on about one-tenth of Minnesota’s lakes. The program particularly needs volunteers who live in northern Minnesota or regularly visit cabins there. The program also seeks canoeists heading to the Boundary Waters. The MPCA has information and an application on its web site  Email the program coordinator at or call 800-657-3864.
  • You may be able to join one of the organizations, such as watershed districts and lake associations, receiving grants from the MPCA to monitor lakes and streams. Email Ron Schwartz at or call 651-757-2708. Or you can contact Courtney Kowalczak at Minnesota Waters. Email or call 218-343-2180.
  • If you live in the Twin Cities, you may be able to join one of the monitoring programs run by cities and watershed districts in partnership with the Metropolitan Council. Participation is limited by the budgets of the partners. Contact Brian Johnson at or call 651-602-8743.
  • There are many other water monitoring programs that use student and adult volunteers. A partial list, with links to some of the programs, is part of an MPCA report to the Legislature. The report, available on the MPCA web site, is titled “Citizen Monitoring of Surface Water Quality.”

MPCA proposes water-quality standards

March 25, 2009

Every three years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states to review, update and — in many cases — strengthen their water-quality standards. Minnesota is in the middle of one of those reviews, and, for the first time, regulators are proposing setting a standard for phosphorus – a common pollutant that feeds algae growth – in rivers and streams.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also is considering toughening its standard for nitrate in rivers and lakes by weighing, not just the pollutant’s impact on human health, but also its effect on fish and other organisms in the water. The agency is considering measuring turbidity in a new way and establishing a new standard for a chemical compound — nonylphenol – that is formed from chemicals once widely used in industrial detergents and pesticides and in the production of paper. The compound is banned in Europe, and the EPA is working to phase out its use in the U.S.

The MPCA has announced its intent to set or upgrade the standards for phosphorus, nitrate and nonylphenol, but numerical limits have not been made public. Once the limits are proposed, probably by late spring, citizens will have until fall to informally comment on them. The changes will be subject to a hearing before an administrative law judge next year.

The Freshwater Society interviewed Mark Tomasek, a supervisor in the agency’s water quality standards unit, about the rule changes. To read the question-and-answer interview from the Facets newsletter, go to the Freshwater Society web site or click here.