Posts Tagged ‘nitrates’

Scott County’s Credit River off ‘impaired’ list

April 30, 2012

Scott County’s Credit River gets cleaner 
John Hensel, who oversees all of the metro area’s watersheds for the state of Minnesota, had brought a camera along to remember this by. On the riverbank he peered down into the flashing current and said, “It looks spring-fed!”

Apparently it didn’t look quite that clear a few years ago.

The Credit River in Scott County for years has been listed as one of Minnesota’s thousands of polluted bodies of water. But now, it is one of a handful to be removed from that list — to be credited, so to speak, as unimpaired.

There are more theories than absolute surefire answers as to why it’s in so much better shape, experts say. But what is known for sure is that people all along its length — often just stray citizens — worked in a host of ways to counteract what could have been causing the problem.
–The Star Tribune

Conservation groups praise Farm Bill votes
Conservation groups across the country are applauding the Senate Agriculture Committee for its decision to maintain a strong conservation component in the 2012 farm bill.

The bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support, but the timing for a full vote on the Senate floor is uncertain.

Besides the Conservation Reserve Program, the farm bill includes a conservation easement program with a strong wetland component, a regional partnership program aimed at improving water quality and a Sodsaver provision.

Sodsaver aims to protect native grasslands by reducing federal support on any new cropland acres put into production as a result of breaking grassland with no previous cropping history.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Research looks at organic ag’s potential
Can organic agriculture feed the world?   Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet – yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often-heated debate over organic versus conventional farming.

Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
–University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment News Release

Climate change moving Corn Belt north 
Researchers have found that climate change is likely to have far greater influence on the volatility of corn prices over the next three decades than factors that recently have been blamed for price swings — like oil prices, trade policies and government biofuel mandates.

The new study, published  in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that unless farmers develop more heat-tolerant corn varieties or gradually move corn production from the United States into Canada, frequent heat waves will cause sharp price spikes.

Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford and an author of the study, said he was surprised by the notable effect of climate change on price volatility for corn, the country’s largest crop. “I really thought climate would be a minor player before we did this analysis,” Professor Diffenbaugh said.
–The New York Times

MPCA approves BWCA haze rules 
The Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved a plan to reduce haze in Voyaguers National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The plan is required by the federal government, which wants states to clean up the air in the nation’s biggest natural areas. The haze in Minnesota’s northern wilderness areas is the result of a complex and ever-changing mix of pollutants. But the MPCA is focusing on taconite plants and coal-fired power plants which have — up to now — escaped other pollution regulations.

In March, the MPCA staff presented a plan to the citizens’ board that would reduce emissions. Cliffs Natural Resources said it would have trouble meeting the standards assigned to its plants in Hibbing and Eveleth. The citizens’ board told its staff to negotiate with the company. The result is a new plan, which gives the company more flexibility and less stringent standards.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Asian carp forum set in Stillwater 
With news coming out that another invasive Bighead carp was caught near Prescott in the St. Croix River, a public forum to discuss the issue will be held May 16 in Stillwater.

The St. Croix River Association is sponsoring a public forum from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 at the Water Street Inn for river users to learn more about the carp, what the invasive fish could mean for the St. Croix and what can be done to control their spread.
–Stillwater Patch

USGS: Look to cancer model to fight invasives 
Lessons learned from the medical community’s progress in fighting cancer can provide a framework to help prevent the introduction and spread of  harmful aquatic invasive species, according to a study released in American Scientist.

With more than 6,500 harmful non-native species causing more than 100 billion dollars in economic damage each year in the United States, more effective methods of confronting them are essential.

In the study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center outline five integrated steps used in cancer prevention and treatment that could be adapted to use in battling invasive species: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment options and rehabilitation.
–USGS News Release

EPA faces decision on 2,4-D-resistant corn
To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind.

He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away. Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.

That would be a welcome development for corn farmers like Brooks Hurst of Tarkio, Mo., who are coping with runaway weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup, the herbicide of choice for the last decade. But some consumer and environmental groups oppose approval of Dow’s corn, saying it will lead to a huge increase in the use of 2,4-D, which they say may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems.
 –The New York Times

USDA planning water-quality credit trades 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) is developing a nationwide network of water quality trading (WQT) programs, slated to become operational in September.

It will consist primarily of projects that earn a share of up to $10 million in targeted Conservation Innovation Grants that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will award that same month.

Roughly 25 programs are currently under review, and grant recipients will be announced in July.
–Ecosystem Marketplace

Twin Cities air gets worse
For the first time in nearly two decades, air in the Twin Cities is dirty enough that it might violate federal health standards, the American Lung Association said in an analysis.

That could lead to more health problems for Twin Cities residents and more hospitalizations for heart attacks, asthma and other lung disorders that can be triggered by the higher amounts of microscopic particles such as soot from leaf blowers, generators, diesel trucks, auto shops, light industry and, most of all, cars.

Ramsey County, one of seven counties tracked for particulate matter, got an F for the first time since the Lung Association began compiling the annual report. Air monitors there measured dangerously high levels of particulate matter 10 times between 2008 and 2010. Hennepin and other metro counties fared about the same as last year, but those counties also experienced several days with high levels of particulate matter in the air.

State pollution officials said that air quality in the Twin Cities metro has been declining for some time and that this summer it could routinely reach levels considered unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
–The Star Tribune

Anoka County well testing set May 7-11 
The thirteenth annual Well Water Wise (3W) week promotion will be held on May 7-11 to encourage residents to check the safety of their private (home or cabin) well.

The Anoka County Community Health and Environmental Services Department, in cooperation with 13 municipalities, sponsors the 3W program to provide testing services to residents throughout the year. County residents may pick up a well water test kit at participating city and township offices or in the county’s Environmental Services office, Suite 360, of the Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue in Anoka.

The well water testing kit includes water collection and submission instructions. Water samples can be submitted to the county’s Environmental Services office of analysis every Monday from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon.

A laboratory fee of $30.00 will be charged for bacteria and nitrate-nitrogen analysis.

During Well Water Wise Week 2012: the Environmental Services office will accept samples Monday, May 7 to Thursday, May 10 from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. On Friday, May 11 samples will be accepted from 8 a.m. to noon.

Washington County nitrate tests set
Washington County, in partnership with the Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, will offer a free nitrate water-testing clinic 4-7 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at Scandia City Hall.

Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater. Experts recommend that private well owners who get their drinking water from wells should test their water regularly.

To participate in the testing, collect at least one-half cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Run the water for 5-10 minutes before filling the container. Do this within 24 hours of the clinic and keep it refrigerated. Homeowners with water treatment equipment (other than a softener) should take two water samples – one before and one after the treatment process. This will determine if the system is working.

Label the container with name, phone number, if the sample is before or after a treatment system, and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled. Samples will be analyzed on the spot – the process usually takes less than five minutes – and results will be given directly to the homeowner. For questions about the clinic or how to take a water sample, contact Wendy Griffin at 651-275-1136, Ext. 24.
–Forest Lake Times

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The Gulf spill, Chesapeake Bay and nitrates

May 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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