Posts Tagged ‘nutrient pollution’

Nutrient pollution; conservation; road salt

December 19, 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.

EPA videos take on nutrient pollution
Nutrient pollution is one of the nation’s most widespread and costly environmental problems. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from farm and lawn fertilizer, pet and livestock waste, roads and houses, faulty septic systems, and treated sewage can turn waters green with slime and pollute waters for swimming, boating, and fishing. To help raise awareness about this growing environmental problem, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a short video to illustrate the potential impacts of nutrient pollution on recreation. The Choice is Yours: Clean or Green Water can be viewed on EPA’s YouTube Channel. The new video complements another EPA YouTube video that provides a broad overview of nutrient pollution.
–EPA News Release

Merriam advocates conservation in Farm Bill
Read a recent Freshwater Society newsletter column by Gene Merriam on conservation in the Farm Bill. He urges Congress to adopt a Senate position that would make compliance with some conservation standards a requirement for farmers seeking subsidized crop insurance coverage.

Use salt sparingly to protect water
Excessive use of road salt – on streets, bridges, parking lots and sidewalks – is s significant cause of pollution of both ground and surface waters. And how cold is too cold for the salt to be effective?

Read a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release with tips for safe and effective use of road salt. Here’s a hint: The MPCA says use less than 4 pounds of salt to clear 1,000 square feet of pavement. That’s the equivalent of a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug of salt for an area that equals about seven average-sized parking spaces.

1,500 injection wells put toxins into the ground
Read an investigative report on federally approved injection wells that allow industries to pour waste products into the ground, sometimes contaminating drinking water aquifers. The report is the work of Pro Publica, a public interest journalism project.

Chesapeake Bay credit plan examined
Read an interesting article from the Southeast Farm Press on tradeoffs in pollution credit trading as it applies to agriculture.

Chicago River: A superhighway for invasives
Standing on the banks of the Chicago River, you realize that maybe the best thing about this filthy waterway is that it was reversed over a century ago so it flows away from Lake Michigan instead of into it.

Water isn’t even the first thing you notice where the river merges with a notoriously fouled little tributary, dubbed Bubbly Creek for the gases still belching from untold tons of cow carcasses dumped into it by the city’s old stockyards.

Floating on the surface is the crinkly corpse of a pink Mylar balloon that’s wrapped itself around a 40-ounce beer bottle. Nearby is a pumpkin stuck in the muck, orbited by an array of tampon applicators and plastic bottle caps. Just below a sewer pipe that excretes a septic stew when big rains hit, a boot floats sole-up next to a tennis shoe; if the pair were a match you’d fret they were attached to feet.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

UW research targets invasive smelt
University of Wisconsin scientists are studying how mixing the water in a lake could eliminate an invasive fish.

The technology works by moving large air bladders up and down the depth of a lake, mixing the water and raising its temperature to where it is intolerable for the fish, said Jake Vander Zanden, supervisor of the study.

The bladders are much like gigantic trampolines, Vander Zanden said. They’re about 25 feet across. Air is pumped in and out so it rises and falls.

The project is designed to eliminate invasive rainbow smelt from the small Crystal Lake in Vilas County, Wis. If successful, it may be applied to other lakes where smelt have invaded and decimated native populations of yellow perch, lake whitefish, northern cisco and commercially important walleye
–Great Lakes Echo

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Celebrate, take note of Clean Water Act

October 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovative Wisconsin phosphorus rules OK’d

July 30, 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.

 
EPA approves Wisconsin’s phosphorus rules
The Environmental Protection Agency approved a first-of-its-kind program to cut phosphorus levels in Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams.

The goal is cleaner water, fewer weeds and algae blooms and better habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

The idea is to allow wastewater treatment plants and companies such as paper mills or dairies with pollution discharge permits to avoid or reduce pollution-control costs, which they would presumably pass on to customers, in favor of partnerships within watersheds aimed at stemming the flow of phosphorus.

Those partnerships could include grants for farmers to change their field and husbandry practices and help communities control runoff from streets.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sediment, carp threaten Pool 2
Read two articles by St. Paul Pioneer Press on threats facing the Mississippi River’s Pool 2, the stretch of river between St.

Paul and Hastings. The first of the related reports deals with the sediment filling the pool, and the second deals with Asian carp.

Minneapolis, St. Paul water use declines
During a summer as hot as this one, it may be difficult to believe that water use in Minneapolis and St. Paul has been declining steeply and steadily over a prolonged period.

Different measures are available for the two cities, but they both show the same strong trend over the past 15 to 30 years:

• In Minneapolis, consumption dropped 17.2 percent from 1998 through 2007, a time when the population was virtually unchanged. In August 2011, a dry month, the city used 31 percent less water than it did in August 2006, a wet month. And in 2011, Minneapolis residents and businesses used 378 million fewer gallons than they did the year before.

• In St. Paul, daily average water use dropped nearly 21 percent from 1980 through 2011. Peak use during that period was in the drought year of 1988.
–The Star Tribune

Cutting water use in Nebraska
Does talking about water conservation work?

It did recently in Lincoln, Neb.

Read a Lincoln Journal Star article about daily water use dropping by 10 million gallons the day after Mayor Chris Beutler urged residents to water their lawns less.

Hearing set on Shakopee sand mining
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites the public to an informational meeting Aug. 2 on the draft state air emissions permit for the proposed Great Plains Sands facility near Shakopee.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Scott County Conference Center, 205 Fourth Ave. W., in Shakopee. The meeting will start with an open house for informal discussion, followed by a formal presentation at 7:15 p.m., with time for questions and answers.

Great Plains Sands proposes to operate a mining facility to produce hydraulic fracturing sand, commonly called “frac sand” or “silica sand,” for use in the natural gas and oil industry. The facility would be located in Louisville and Sand Creek townships, along Highway 169, in Scott County, on the south side of the Twin Cities metro area.

The company would mine about 100 acres, use an additional 28 acres for processing and railcar loading, and leave 12 acres as setbacks and buffer areas. The site is zoned for rural industrial use and previous land uses include mining, hog farming, auto salvaging, and concrete mixing.

Scott County recently approved an interim-use permit for the proposed Great Plains Sands facility. The MPCA is the government unit responsible for the air emissions permit. The draft permit will be available for review and comment on the MPCA Public Notices webpage. The public comment period will run July 27 to Aug. 27.
–MPCA News Release

Audubon challenges Florida ag rules
The Florida Audubon Society took on the state’s largest sugar producers, challenging recently issued permits that allow the pollution control practices the companies use on 234,932 acres of farmland in the Everglades.

The permits were issued after the South Florida Water Management District approved the companies’ “best management practices,” procedures growers undertake to reduce pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants that flow off from their fields.

Audubon filed a petition with the district for an administrative law judge to intervene and deny the permits. The petition will be sent to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to determine whether to appoint a judge.
–The Palm Beach Post

Chinese protest water pollution
Angry demonstrators entered a government office in the port city of Qidong, near Shanghai, and smashed computers and destroyed furniture to protest a waste discharge plant that they said would pollute the water supply.

In reaction, the local government Web site said that plans for the discharge plant, which was to be part of a paper manufacturing plant, had been abandoned.

China’s authorities face a mounting pattern of protests against pollution, and in particular, against industrial plants that locals can single out during the planning stage or in the early days of construction.
–The New York Times

Nitrogen; invasive species; water infrastructure

July 2, 2012

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

Otto Doering to lecture on nitrogen pollution

Otto Doering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fertilizers pollute ground, surface waters

April 16, 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.

Report analyzes pollution from fertilizers
The Environmental Working Group has issued a 54-page report on the pollution of ground and surface waters caused by nitrogen and phosphorus, two major farm fertilizers.

The report, “Troubled Waters: Farm Pollution Threatens Drinking Water,” looked at the problem in four Midwest corn belt states – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Both nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to the oxygen-deprived “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen also has a health risk for humans, especially for infants, when it leaches into drinking water drawn from shallow wells. Phosphorus in lakes feeds algae blooms that can be a deterrent to recreation and sometimes a health threat.

The report quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that removing nitrate from drinking water costs nearly $5 billion a year. According to the report, nitrate levels in Minnesota streams are eight times natural background levels, and phosphorus levels are five times background levels.

The also report quotes data from a Minnesota Department of Agriculture voluntary testing program that evaluated water from 9,700 wells between 1995 and 1998. In those tests, 9 percent of drilled wells had nitrate in excess of the human health standard, 16 percent of sandpoint wells had nitrate that exceeded the health standard, and 40 percent of the relatively few dug wells that were tested had nitrates in excess of the standard. A Minnesota Health Department survey of randomly selected private wells in the 1990s found about 6 percent had nitrate levels that exceeded the health standard.

Read the Environmental Working Group report. Read a Star Tribune article about the report. Read a Des Moines Register article on it. Read an agriculture.com article on it.  View the  Minnesota Department of Agriculture web page reporting data on well contamination and offering advice on water testing for owners of private wells.

View video of Craig A. Cox, one of the authors of the Environmental Working Group report, delivering a February 2011 lecture, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Cox’s lecture was titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production.”

Research: Migrating loons visit L. Michigan
At least six of the 29 loons that have had radio and satellite telemetry devices placed in them by researchers have returned to their breeding lakes in Minnesota as of April 11, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

One of the loons, known as “M2,” returned to Big Mantrap Lake in northern Minnesota March 29.

“This is a very exciting time in science exploration,” said Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program. “We have been able to learn more about our fabulous state bird than we have ever known before.”

During the last two years, the loons were equipped with satellite transmitters in an effort to study their migratory movements and foraging patterns while migrating.

Most of the loons that are part of this research project left Minnesota in October and spent about a month on Lake Michigan before departing for the Gulf of Mexico in early December.
–DNR News Release

Rules tightened on antibiotics for livestock 
Farmers and ranchers will for the first time be required to get a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals, federal food regulators announced. Officials hope the move will slow the indiscriminate use of the drugs, which has made them increasingly ineffective in humans.

The Food and Drug Administration has been taking small steps to try to curb the use of antibiotics on farms, but federal officials said that requiring prescriptions would lead to meaningful reductions in the agricultural use of antibiotics, which are given to promote animal growth. The drug resistance that has developed from that practice has been a growing problem for years and has rendered a number of antibiotics used in humans less and less effective, with deadly consequences.

Initially, the F.D.A. is asking drug makers to voluntarily change their labels to require a prescription; federal officials said that drug makers had largely agreed to the change.
–The New York Times

GAO: U.S. could save $1 billion on crop insurance 
The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending. Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.
–The New York Times

Maps spur interest in protecting Le Sueur River 
A “map party” may not sound like a rousing way to kick off the formation of a citizen-led movement to improve the Le Sueur River.

But as people filed into the Pemberton Community Center for an informal open house, they eagerly pored over a variety of maps of the area — historic maps from the early 1900s to high-tech maps showing crisp aerial views and maps created with cutting-edge imaging showing erosion of bluffs over time.

The event was the first step in trying to get residents in the watershed to focus on a river that is one of the biggest contributors of sediment into the Minnesota River — sediment that is rapidly filling in Lake Pepin on the Mississippi and leading to growing calls for action.

Patrick Moore, the leader of Clean Up the River Environment or CURE, said bringing together the seemingly endless number of maps created by state and federal agencies grew out of a comment by Blue Earth County’s land use planner, Julie Conrad.
–The Mankato Free Press

Zebra mussel shells clog Lake Winnebago 
For some area residents on the lakeshore, it’s like something out of a bad horror movie. No matter what they try, the bogeyman keeps regenerating itself.

In this case, the monster is a barrier of zebra mussel shells that pile up and stretch across an inlet to Lake Winnebago on the lakeshore property of the Jesuit Retreat House in the Town of Black Wolf.

Chuck Linde, facilities manager for the retreat house, estimates there is about 12 dump trucks’ worth of mussels in the lake inlet, next to an island just off the shore. “It’s created a landmass,” Linde said. “It bridges the gap between the island and our property.” –The Oshkosh Northwestern

Will Steger helps open 2010 – The Year of Water

January 18, 2010

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

Will Steger helps open  2010 – The Year of Water
To educate and inspire people to value, conserve and protect Minnesota’s water resources, the Freshwater Society is launching a yearlong initiative, 2010: The Year of Water, with a free public lecture by Will Steger, noted polar explorer.

Steger will speak on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at a 2010: The Year of Water kickoff event at the Gray Freshwater Center in Excelsior.

 A Minnesota native who has led multiple dogsled expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and Antarctica over the last 20 years, Steger now spends most of his time working to educate people, especially young adults, about the threat of global warming.

 Steger will speak about his first-hand observations of global warming in polar regions, the impact of climate change on water resources, the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change and the opportunities he sees for Americans to fight global warming and revitalize their economy by dramatically reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

 Steger’s talk is the first of several initiatives planned by Freshwater Society as part of 2010: The Year of Water. Other activities include:

 A four-part lecture series, co-sponsored by Freshwater and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, in which national and local experts will discuss major water issues.

  • A water conservation curriculum that will encourage many fourth- and fifth-grade students across Minnesota to measure the water they and their families use and consider ways to use less.
  • Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality in which clubs, organizations and youth groups throughout Minnesota will be encouraged to combat phosphorus pollution of lakes and rivers by recycling leaves that, otherwise, would wash into storm sewers in the spring and fall.

The Jan. 26 opening event that features Steger’s talk on global warming begins at 7 p.m. at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior. Minn.

The event is open to the public, but seating is limited and pre-registration is required. To register, go to the Freshwater Society Web site: http://www.freshwater.org .

 Minnesota atrazine rules are adequate, ag department says
The Minnesota Agriculture Department says state regulations controlling the use of a popular agricultural weedkiller are doing their job. 

The department is reviewing the use of atrazine, which is commonly sprayed on cornfields. Nila Hines with the Agriculture Department says monitoring wells near farmland show that the amount of atrazine turning up in groundwater is declining. 

“Our environmental and human health regulations are adequate,” Hines said. “So there’s no need to change a specific label or change the registration of atrazine in Minnesota at this time.” 

Environmental groups have said atrazine levels in ground water are often too high, and that they pose a health risk. 

Samuel Yamin with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy says health studies convince him the limit should be stricter.
–Minnesota Public Radio
 To read the report on atrazine rules prepared by the Agriculture Department, the state Health Department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and to learn how you can comment on it, click here.

 In a first, EPA sets tough nutrient limits for Florida
In a move cheered by environmental groups, the federal government proposed stringent limits on nutrient pollution allowed to foul Florida’s waterways.

 The ruling — which will cost industries and governments more than a billion dollars to comply — marks the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has intervened to set a state’s water-quality standards.

The agency issued the proposed regulations after reaching a settlement in August with five environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.

 The caps on phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals would replace the state’s vague “narrative” approach to monitoring the effects of waste and fertilizer runoff, which the EPA deemed insufficient. The proposed rule includes provisions giving the EPA oversight authority to enforce the standards.
–The Miami Herald

 Evelyn Moyle, nature author and Freshwater board member, dies
Evelyn Wood Moyle, an original board member of the Freshwater Society and the co-author of a premiere guide to Minnesota wildflowers, died recently at age 95.  The Star Tribune published a complete obituary describing her longtime devotion to nature. 

With her husband, John, she created Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region in 1977. Tom Orjala, senior editor for regional studies and contemporary affairs for the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that the guide became a bible for nature lovers in this region. “It was the book that any enthusiast had in their backpack, on the kitchen table,” Orjala said. 

In 2001, she and photographer John Gregor published a revised edition. 

Legislators to decide $18 million deal for Lake Vermilion park
The state of Minnesota has reached a deal to buy property on the east edge of Lake Vermilion for a vaunted new state park. But the price is higher than legislators have allowed, and they may not give it their blessing.

 Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that after more than two years of negotiations, U.S. Steel Corp. has agreed to sell the 3,000 undeveloped acres to the state for $18 million in cash. The company values the land at $2.3 million more and would treat that amount as a donation to the state.

 But the cash price, while lower than the $20 million in bonding the Legislature set aside for the project two years ago, is still higher than the state’s property appraisal. As a result, the Legislature must agree to lift a price cap that limits the state’s offer to 12 percent above the appraisal.

With the state facing a huge budget deficit, key legislators indicated they may resist lifting the price cap.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Mississippi Makeover open house set
Citizens can learn about the Mississippi Makeover project, the first locally led comprehensive plan for restoring the river south of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, at an open house Thursday, Jan. 28.

The open house will be from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hastings High School, 200 General Sieben Drive. 

The river suffers from poor water clarity caused by sediment, algae and other suspended materials. The cloudy water is aesthetically unpleasing to people and harmful to fish, wildlife and aquatic plants. The sediment is also harming Lake Pepin by settling to the lake bottom and making the lake shallower. 

The Mississippi Makeover plan focuses on managing the river in the Hastings area and downstream, including building islands, removing rough fish and perhaps temporarily lowering water levels to stimulate plant growth and improve water clarity and river habitats. With funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Dakota County is coordinating this project with assistance from partners including MN Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District, and others. 

For more information about the Mississippi Makeover project, contact the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District at 651-480-7784 or www.dakotaswcd.org. 

Investment could aid copper mine near Ely
Duluth Metals has announced a partnership with one of the world’s leading copper mining companies, a deal that’s expected to provide money to start an underground mining project south of Ely. 

The new deal catapults the low-profile Duluth Metals into prominence after existing in the shadows of Polymet’s better known and more developed copper-nickel mining project. 

The new partnership is with Antofagasta PLC, a British company considered one of the world’s leading copper miners. Duluth Metals Chairman Christopher Dundas explained in a conference call that Antofagasta would provide up to $227 million for a 40 percent share of what they call the Nokomis project. 

Antofagasta has sales of more than $3 billion and operates large copper mines in Chile as well as rail transportation and water projects. Dundas said the new joint venture will not only speed up the Minnesota mining project; it may get a lot bigger.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

Michigan agency OKs Upper Peninsula mine
Michigan regulators have given final approval for construction and operation of a bitterly contested nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula

The Department of Environmental Quality said  it has determined the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. project meets the requirements of the state’s mining laws. 

The mine would be built in a remote section of Marquette County called the Yellow Dog Plains. Opposition groups say it could pollute groundwater and streams, while mine officials say they’ll protect the local environment.
–The Associated Press 

Twins stadium conserves runoff
That brand new Colorado-grown turf in Target Field will be watered with good old-fashioned recycled Minnesota rain water, the Minnesota Twins announced. 

The Twins and one of their newest sponsors, Minneapolis-based Pentair Inc., said that the team’s new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis will be the first major sports facility anywhere to be irrigated and washed down with recycled rain water. 

The recycling system, designed and installed by Pentair, will collect water from Target Field’s seven acres and drain it into a 100,000-gallon cistern buried below the field. There the water will be disinfected and treated.
–The Star Tribune 

Ethanol hurting some bird populations
Government incentives for corn-based ethanol have prompted farmers to convert land for corn production, hurting some grassland bird populations in the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest, a University of Michigan study says. 

The study, conducted for the National Wildlife Federation by a team of graduate students, analyzes current and potential impacts of corn ethanol production on wildlife and habitat in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

It shows grassland being turned into cropland at an alarming rate, according to Greg Fogel, the study’s co-author. 

The report said the nation’s ethanol production has tripled since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandated a large increase in domestic ethanol production. In addition, it said federal legislation in 2007 requires corn ethanol production to increase from 10.6 billion gallons last year to 15 billion gallons in 2015. The report found 31 federal incentives and mandates to encourage ethanol production.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
In what could be the state’s largest collective gulp of Lake Michigan water in nearly two decades, 10 suburbs are seeking approval to tap the vast but closely guarded natural resource.

With groundwater supplies drying up and vulnerable to contamination, the Lake County communities that now rely on wells are casting envious eyes on that tantalizingly close supply — the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world. They propose spending $250 million to lay about 57 miles of pipe and take other steps that would bring Lake Michigan water to the western part of Lake County.

It would be the largest diversion since the early 1990s and may spur criticism from other states that adjoin the Great Lakes, which brim with nearly 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water. The move comes at the same time that Michigan and other states are battling Illinois in U.S. Supreme Court over whether it’s doing enough to halt the potential invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

The carp fight has no bearing on Lake County’s request for water, but the application could fuel further animosities — especially because other states face much more stringent barriers to Great Lakes water than Illinois.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Illinois officials seek to allay carp fears
On a day when federal officials acknowledged the presence of Asian carp DNA closer to Lake Michigan than previously thought, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state lawmakers attempted to calm fears and assure political forces around the Great Lakes that the invasive fish problem was under control.

“We are not in denial about the threat of this invasive species,” Durbin said at a packed news briefing at the Shedd Aquarium. “For at least the last 10 years, maybe longer, we’ve been actively dealing with this.”

Michigan’s attorney general sued Illinois in the U.S. Supreme Court last month, seeking the closing of navigational locks and dams in the Chicago region to seal off Lake Michigan from the voracious Asian carp. Environmental DNA sampling had previously indicated that the carp, which have steadily moved up Chicago’s waterways since at least the 1990s, had bypassed an electronic underwater barrier near Lockport and were within about six miles of the lake.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Group seeks limits on endocrine disruptors
Citing the decline in frogs and rise of “frankenfish,” a Bay Area environmental group filed a legal petition Monday for tighter federal standards on pollutants that disrupt the hormones of humans and wildlife. 

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Environmental Agency to beef up criteria under the Clean Water Act for pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other endocrine disruptors that leak through the water-treatment process and contaminate groundwater and drinking-water supplies. 

“We’ve found that a very small concentration of these chemicals can have profound reproductive effects,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

DNR proposes five new muskie waters
In response to growing interest in muskellunge fishing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering the stocking of muskie in five new waters starting in the fall of 2011.

The four lakes and a river are:  Roosevelt Lake in Cass and Crow Wing counties; Upper South Long Lake and Lower South Long Lake in Crow Wing County; Tetonka Lake in Le Sueur County; and the Sauk River Chain in Stearns County.

 “All of these waters meet or exceed the biological and physical criteria for muskie management,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR acting fisheries chief. 

The muskie is one of Minnesota’s largest fish, growing to more than 50 pounds and more than 50 inches in length. Anglers have become increasingly interested in the so-called “fish of 10,000 casts” now that 50-plus inch fish can be caught in Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Vermillion and other waters that have been stocked since the 1980s.
–DNR news release

Narrow Bering Strait has big impact on climate
At 50 miles wide, the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia, hardly seems like a major player in Earth’s climate.

But a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience concludes that this shallow strait between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans has played a large role in climate fluctuations during recent ice ages. Depending on whether it’s closed or open, the strait dramatically changes the distribution of heat around the planet. 

When sea levels decline enough that water can no longer flow from the Pacific to the Arctic through the strait, the North Atlantic responds by growing warmer. That warmth is strong enough to melt ice sheets and temporarily reverse the glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Obsolete California dam to be razed
In what could be the largest dam removal project ever completed in California, government officials and a Monterey water company agreed to tear down the 106-foot-tall San Clemente Dam. The move is a victory for endangered steelhead trout which for decades have been blocked from their spawning grounds by the obsolete concrete structure on the Carmel River.

 The signed agreement ended more than 10 years of study and debate and sets in motion an $84 million project. The dam closure — a formidable engineering and biological enterprise — is expected to be watched by scientists and water managers around the United States.

 Built in 1921, San Clemente Dam once stored drinking water for thousands of people around the Monterey Peninsula. It irrigated golf courses and helped run clanking sardine canneries.

But today its reservoir is 90 percent silted up, choked with sand and mud. And the dam doesn’t provide electricity or flood protection.
–San Jose Mercury News

 Lake Erie studied for wind energy
The most consistent and unchecked winds in Ohio are found off the state’s northern coast: above Lake Erie.

That’s why Cuyahoga County leaders are pushing a $92 million project to build three to eight turbines three to five miles off Cleveland’s coast. 

The pilot project would, depending on the size of the turbines, produce 5 to 20 megawatts, enough electricity to power 9,000 to 12,000 houses. 

Supporters would like to see the 260-foot-high turbines operating by 2013 and want the project to be the first offshore wind development in the United States, spokesman A. Steven Dever of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force said.
–The Akron Beacon Journal

 Wisconsin hearings set on ag runoff
Proposals to further reduce Wisconsin’s runoff pollution are the topic of public hearings statewide later this month and February. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the updates are aimed at reducing toxic blue green algae blooms, fish kills, contaminated wells and other problems fueled by pollutants running off urban areas and farm fields and entering Wisconsin lakes, rivers and groundwater.

Major provisions of the proposed rule changes seek to reduce the potential of croplands, pastures and winter grazing areas that contribute phosphorus to Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and groundwater. Farmers would have to meet a maximum average level of phosphorus allowed to come off their fields, with that average calculated over an eight-year period.

The DNR estimates that 80 percent of farmers will meet the average with little or no change in their practices.
–The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald 

MPCA investigating Carver County
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating how Carver County’s environmental staff allowed an illegal septic system to operate at the county-owned Waconia ballroom for 18 months.

 The MPCA inquiry, which began recently, is directed at the county’s Office of Environmental Services, which last year told the County Board that the system was legal and had passed inspections.

 The office accepted a compliance inspection report in 2008 even though it was prepared by the same man who installed the system about 30 years ago. Questions were raised almost immediately about the accuracy of the report, with critics claiming that the septic system was too close to the area groundwater to be legal.
–The Star Tribune

Climate change, endocrine disruptors in the news

November 30, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety.

Obama to promise greenhouse gas reduction
President Obama will travel to Copenhagen at the start of the United Nations conference on climate change on Dec. 9 just before flying to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama, who had not previously committed to making an appearance at the climate conference, had been under considerable pressure from other world leaders and environmental advocates to make the trip as a statement of American seriousness about the climate change negotiations.

 Mr. Obama will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. The administration has resisted until now delivering a firm pledge on emissions reductions.
–The New York Times

 Indonesian peat lands spew CO2
From the air, the Kampar Peninsula in Indonesia stretches for mile after mile in dense scrub and trees. One of the world’s largest peat swamp forests, it is also one of its biggest vaults of carbon dioxide, a source of potentially lucrative currency as world governments struggle to hammer out a global climate treat. The vault, though, is leaking.

 Canals — used legally and illegally — extend from surrounding rivers nearly into the peninsula’s impenetrable core. By slowly draining and drying the peat land, they are releasing carbon dioxide, contributing to making Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.
–The New York Times

Root and Sauk watersheds to get funding
The watersheds of the Sauk River in Central Minnesota and the Root River in the southeastern part of the state are among 41 watersheds in 12 states that have been selected to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the watersheds – 42 million acres in all — that will be the first targets of a $320 million federal program to improve the Mississippi. 

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was announced on Sept. 24, will provide U.S. Department of Agriculture financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The program will help farmers put in place conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. 

Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Mississippi basin — while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. 

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_overview.html. 

Water pollution underestimated, researchers say
Inaccuracies in published data underestimate the amount of organic pollutants in raw sewage, providing flawed information for environmental policy makers, claim US scientists.  

High quality analysis of raw sewage is crucial to measure pollutants in the environment and the efficiency of wastewater treatments plants. Suspended solids in sewage can block analytical apparatus and complicate analysis so samples are commonly filtered before analysis. But, appropriate corrections for the filtration step are not always made say Rolf Halden and Randhir Deo at Arizona State University, Tempe. 

Some hydrophobic organic compounds adsorb onto these solid filters and disappear from the sample, so the analysis of the resulting aqueous phase does not show the total amount that was present before filtering, explains Halden.  

Halden and Deo studied reported data for 33 organic compounds in the aqueous phase and found that between 15-60% of some compounds’ mass was adsorbed onto the suspended solids, which led to estimates of organic pollutants being 50% lower than actually present.
–Highlights in Chemical Science

Endocrine-disruptors found in pristine lakes
Minnesota scientists say it appears endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals are found in even the most pristine lakes in the state.

 Researchers say they’re not sure why the chemical compounds are so widespread, but they say more research is needed to better understand the potential impact on wildlife and humans. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sampled a dozen lakes and four rivers across the state. Some of the samples came from water close to cities and others were from lakes in remote northern forests.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Endocrine-disruptors alter gender of fish
Something strange is happening to the fish in America’s rivers, lakes and ponds. Chemical pollution seems to be disrupting their hormones, blurring the line between male and female.

And as CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, those fish swim where millions get their drinking water.
–CBS Evening News

 Answers come slowly in endocrine research
What’s the problem with the Potomac River — and could whatever it is spell problems for those of us who drink its water? 

In 2003, scientists discovered something startling in the Potomac, from which at least 3 million Washington area residents get their drinking water: Male fish were growing eggs. But six years later, a government-led research effort still hasn’t answered those two questions. Scientists say they still aren’t sure which pollutants are altering the fish, or whether the discovery poses any threat to people’s health.
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin groups threat to sue EPA over nutrients
The threat of a potential lawsuit could set the stage for new regulations of a pair of pollutants that are responsible for algae blooms and poor drinking water. 

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on of their s intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution – phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that it would start to regulate the pollutants.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  

Sea level rise could cost $28 trillion
A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

 The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called “port mega-cities,” urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present. 

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.
–CNN

MPCA seeks comments on water quality
A public comment period on a water-quality report for six lakes in Washington and Chisago counties began Nov. 23 and continues through Dec. 23, 2009.  The Total Maximum Daily Load report addresses water pollution caused by excessive nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. 

All six lakes are in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District near the cities of Wyoming and Forest Lake.  The lakes include Comfort, Birch, Bone, Moody, School, Shields and Little Comfort.  Water-quality monitoring of these lakes has shown that their nutrient levels frequently exceed state standards. 

The Six Lakes report is available on the Web at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/project-clflwd.html or at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N.  For more information and to submit comments, contact Christopher Klucas, MPCA Project Manager, at 651-757-2498 or christopher.klucas@state.mn.us.
–MPCA news release

 EPA issues rules on construction runoff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ssued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. The rule takes effect in February 2010 and will be phased in over four years.

The final rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges. For information, go to http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/guide/construction.
–EPA news release