Posts Tagged ‘organic agriculture’

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

October 10, 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.

Read Facets articles on-line
Asian carp. The future of U.S. and world agriculture. A Gene Merriam column on conservation and crop insurance. Two new books on lakes. Don’t miss the latest issue of “Facets of Freshwater,” the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. Features, which you can read on-line here,  include:

  • A q-and-a interview with Tim Schlagenhaft, the Minnesota DNR’s point person in the campaign against Asian carp.
  • A column by Freshwater President Gene Merriam urging that the federal  Farm Bill be changed to make conservation compliance a requirement for  farmers getting subsidized crop insurance.
  • An article on MN FarmWise,  the farmer-to-farmer mentoring program that Freshwater and the National  Park Service are building to encourage farmers to employ proven  conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and runoff.
  • A preview of th Nov. 10 lecture that Fred Kirschenmann will deliver on water and the future of U.S. and world agriculture.

Read a web-only article on a University of Minnesota doctoral student’s research on how water moves within the many bays of Lake Minnetonka. The research holds potential to allow data from water-quality measurements taken at a few places in the lake to be extrapolated to the entire lake.

Farmer accused of killing pelican chicks
On May 17, Craig Staloch just snapped, his lawyer says.

Within the space of a few hours, he smashed thousands of American White pelican chicks and eggs — all of the offspring in one of the state’s largest colonies — even though a wildlife officer had told him the previous day that they were protected by federal law.

Making his first appearance in federal court, Staloch, a farmer from Faribault County, entered no plea to a criminal misdemeanor charge filed for what conservation officials say is one of the most extreme acts of wildlife destruction they’ve ever encountered.

“He flipped out,” said Staloch’s attorney, Jason Kohlmeyer. “He got frustrated and went to town.”

The birds had damaged about seven acres of land he was renting on the shores of Minnesota Lake, Staloch said after the hearing. Over the past three years they’ve cost him $20,000 in expenses and lost revenue, he said. When he asked for help, state wildlife specialists suggested a fence to protect his crops, Kohlmeyer said.

“But that’s not effective,” he said. “The damn birds fly.”
–The Star Tribune

Cormorant control bill introduced
 A new bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. John Kline and Collin Peterson would give states greater latitude to manage the size of migrating flocks of cormorants.

The birds are protected under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act but Kline and Peterson say an overpopulation of cormorants has caused damage in their districts, displacing other species and fouling the air and water with waste.

Under the current law, states must submit plans to control the population to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. Under Kline and Peterson’s bill, governors would have authority to manage the bird populations, with that authority subject to review every five years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

DNR tries zebra mussel pesticide
 Favorable weather conditions allowed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to treat a 10-acre section of Rose Lake on Oct. 6 for an isolated infestation of zebra mussels in the Otter Tail County lake.

The treatment, using copper sulfate, is the first of three pesticide treatments occurring this fall to kill a small population of juvenile zebra mussels discovered in the lake in late September. DNR biologists believe the invasive mussels were introduced when a boat lift was placed in the 1,200-acre lake this summer.

The DNR hired a licensed aquatic pesticide contractor to apply the treatment, which is commonly used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch. The DNR is paying $14,000 for the three treatments, which take about two hours to complete.

“We know copper sulfate will kill zebra mussels, but we won’t know for sure until next summer if the treatment was successful,” said Nathan Olson, DNR invasive species specialist. “We will be monitoring the site closely.”
–DNR News Release

Senjem to speak on non-point pollution
 Norm Senjem, who recently retired from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where he directed the agency’s effort to measure and reduce the sediment and phosphorus flowing into Lake Pepin, will be the featured speaker Wednesday, Oct. 12, at
a Sip of Science. The happy-hour-style lecture series is sponsored by the National Center For Earth-Surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota.

Senjem will speak at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis.

A news release from the National Center For Earth-Surface Dynamics says Senjem will argue that voluntary measures are no longer enough to address non-point pollution in Minnesota.

Mineral leases delayed 6 months
 Minnesota officials unexpectedly postponed prospecting for copper and other minerals on private lands near Ely, giving cabin owners and local residents six months to try to change state law allowing the exploration.

Even though the state has the power to sell the leases that would permit drilling, road building and other activities because it controls the mineral rights to those properties, Gov. Mark Dayton said that with the state on the brink of a new era of mining it’s critical to “get it right.”

“Those minerals are not going to go anywhere,” he said. A delay, he said, will allow the state “to regain the public trust.”
About 75 people attended the special meeting by the state’s executive council, made up of Dayton and the state’s other top elected officials. Property owners who have been fighting the sale since April were granted a last chance to persuade the council to reject or at least postpone the 50-year leases on their land. They said they wanted the opportunity to go to the Legislature to change a century-old law that they said is skewed in favor of the mining companies.

“That law was made by and for the mining companies,” said Ron Brodigan, who had mineral leases sold on about 120 of the 200 acres he owns near Isabella.
–The Star Tribune

DNR seeks local input in managing groundwater
 The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is trying to improve the way it manages the state’s underground water supply.
Cities, industries and farms are all using more water. State scientists have found evidence that pumping too much water from underground is damaging lakes, streams and wetlands, particularly during summer, said Andrew Streitz, a hydrologist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“We’re a water rich state, and I think for the first time we’re bumping up against limits to what we thought of as a limitless resource,” said Streitz, who studies the interaction between groundwater and surface water.

To help preserve a precious natural resource, the DNR plans to test a new water management model that would give local officials a greater role in conserving water.
–Minnesota Public Radio

BWCA lottery ends
 Visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness no longer will have to deal with a lottery to get a permit to enter the 1-million-acre preserve in northern Minnesota.

The U.S. Forest Service is dropping the long-used lottery system next year, and will offer permits on a first-come, first-served basis instead.

“Because of current technology and improvements to our reservation system, the lottery is no longer necessary,” Jim Sanders, Superior National Forest supervisor, said in a letter to BWCA visitors.

The agency had used a lottery from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 to help distribute permits, especially for high-demand entry points and dates. About 9,000 people applied for permits during the lottery period. When it ended, permits were distributed on a first-come basis.

“There’s so very few dates where there isn’t some availability, and very few entry points with that high level of demand, that it just doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of anyone to keep the lottery,” said Kris Reichenbach, a Superior National Forest spokeswoman.
–The Star Tribune

Court rules for mountaintop mining
 A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in tightening oversight of permits used by coal companies in a process known as mountaintop removal mining.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act when it issued tougher environmental guidelines related to fill material dumped into streams after the tops of mountains are blasted off to extract underlying coal seams. The National Mining Association sued the EPA last year and argued that the agency couldn’t issue the new guidance without formal rulemaking.

The dispute is one of several in which the mining industry has argued that more stringent environmental regulations are hampering the ability of coal companies to operate and maintain mining jobs. The judge has yet to hear arguments on the second part of the mining association’s lawsuit which involves the specific water-quality guidelines used by the EPA.

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the mining association, said that more than 70 mining permits in Appalachia that had been on hold will be freed up as a result of the judge’s decision.
–The Wall Street Journal

MPCA renews groundwater testing
 Responding to recent monitoring results that showed increased perfluorochemical (PFC) levels in the groundwater at the 3M Woodbury dump site, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has conducted a new round of sampling of private wells in residential areas of Cottage Grove and Woodbury near the site.

Testing results indicate none of the wells tested had levels of PFCs that exceed state drinking-water standards. However, the MPCA continues to work with 3M to determine the reason for the increase and determine if changes in the site cleanup plans are necessary.

MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the agency moved quickly to sample private wells to determine whether the water from the wells is meeting state drinking-water standards for PFCs.

“We contacted homeowners for permission and fast-tracked the sampling and lab analysis. This week we called residents back to let them know that the wells that were tested were below the health-based drinking-water levels for PFCs,” Aasen said.
–MPCA News Release

TPT to cover Great Lakes conference
Twin Cities Public Television will provide live and delayed coverage of a major U.S.-Canada conference on the future of the Great Lakes. The conference will be held in Detroit, Oct. 12 through 14.For information on the conference and scheduling details, go to

UN conference focuses on water
 Successful water projects can serve as templates around the world and help to stimulate the adoption of green economies, a conference run by the United Nations inter-agency group focused on water issues has heard.

The three-day UN-Water conference in Zaragoza, Spain, discussed examples of successful water projects as well as how to adequate manage the world’s limited water resources.

Experts predict that the amount of water needed by humans could exceed the amount available by as much as 40 per cent by 2030, making water management a priority in the sustainability agenda. Water is also closely linked to the green economy because it is interwoven with sustainable development issues such as health, food security, energy and poverty.

The conference served as a preparation process for next year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development,
known as Rio+20.
–United Nations News Release

Fluoride debate resurfaces
Consumers hearing that some U.S. communities will no longer add fluoride to their drinking water, such as Florida’s Pinellas County, may wonder whether this cavity fighter is safe.

The short answer: Most health professionals say yes, as long as people don’t ingest too much of it.

Studies in the 1930s found tooth decay was less severe in areas with more fluoride in drinking water, prompting U.S. communities to add it to their water.

Yet the Obama administration is moving to lower its recommended amount in drinking water as newer research shows high levels can cause tooth and bone damage.

The National Academies’ National Research Council found in 2006 that children are at risk of losing enamel and developing pits and brown stains on their teeth if the fluoride in their water exceeds the maximum level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It said this “severe fluorosis” can cause tooth decay.
–USA Today

Report urges upgrading U.S. water system
Want to create nearly 1.9 million American jobs and add $265 billion to the economy? Upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure. That’s the message of a new report released by Green For  All, in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute. The Rockefeller Foundation generously provided funding for the project.

Every year, sewage overflows dump 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage into our water systems – enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with waste one-inch deep. But investment in our nation’s infrastructure to handle stormwater and wastewater has lagged, falling by one-third since its 1975 peak.

The report, Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment, looks at an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure – the amount the EPA indicates would be required to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. That investment would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending.
–Green For  All News Release

Environmentalists wary of Great Lakes pact
U.S. and Canadian negotiators are putting the finishing touches on the bi-national Great Lakes water quality agreement even as conservation groups continue to grumble that they are being kept in the dark about the details of a document designed to help both countries manage the world’s largest freshwater system.

The agreement was first passed in the early 1970s in response to outrage over chronic pollution problems facing the lakes, and it was subsequently updated in the ’70s and ’80s. Now the governments are getting set to release a 21st century version of the plan after acknowledging two years ago that new problems such as invasive species and fresh chemical contaminants were not adequately addressed in the existing agreement.

The governments have been soliciting public input, but the problem for a big coalition of conservation groups is the public has not been allowed to see details of the draft plan.

Government leaders say it has to be that way.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Montana settles clean-water suit
 A federal judge has approved a far-reaching settlement giving Montana until 2014 to clean up polluted streams and lakes in 28 watersheds across the state, capping nearly 15 years of legal battles, officials said.

The deal covers more than 17,000 miles of rivers and streams and 461,000 surface acres of lakes, requiring them to meet water-quality standards set for uses such as drinking, swimming and fishing, under the federal Clean Water Act.

The settlement, signed by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, addresses hundreds of types of pollutants, including hazardous chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and heavy metals such as mercury.

The deal stems from a 1997 lawsuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality had violated the Clean Water Act by permitting contaminants to be released into the state’s already degraded waters.

In 2003, Molloy sided with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and other environmental groups, ordering Montana to develop pollution control plans for many waterways by 2012.

Turning poop into power
 Maryland chicken farms produce a substantial amount of phosphorous-rich chicken manure, which contributes to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. One solution to the problem: Turn the poop into power.

A new grant program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will bring $850,000 to Eastern Shore chicken farmers to install technologically advanced systems to convert waste into green energy.

“We’re trying to create a network of people who have experience (with) these technologies to provide assistance to farmers,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the Chesapeake Program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is administering the USDA grant.

Disposal of chicken farm waste is a pressing issue in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay where, according the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 26 percent of the phosphorus load entering the bay comes from animal waste.
–Capital News Service

DNR hiring conservation officers
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting applications until Oct. 14 for the position of conservation officer.

The DNR’s Division of Enforcement anticipates hiring up to 26 conservation officers for academies to be held in the spring of 2012 and fall of 2012.

Conservation officers provide public safety, and resource and recreation protection response to all field operations for which the DNR Division of Enforcement is held responsible.

Applicants must possess a valid Minnesota Peace Officer’s License, or be eligible to be licensed by the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board prior to the time conditional offers are made; or complete basic police training and be certified as a full-time peace officer in a state or federal law enforcement agency with which Minnesota has reciprocity, and pass the POST Board reciprocity exam by the time conditional job offers are made.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Hole reported in Arctic ozone
 Intense cold in the upper atmosphere of the Arctic last winter activated ozone-depleting chemicals and produced the first significant ozone hole ever recorded over the high northern regions, scientists reported in the journal Nature.

While the extent of the ozone depletion is considered temporary, and well below the depletion that occurs seasonally over the Antarctic, atmospheric scientists described it as a striking example of how sudden anomalies can occur as a result of human activity that occurred years ago. At its maximum extent in February, the northern ozone hole reached southward into Russia and Mongolia.

Emissions of chlorinated fluorocarbons, or CFCs, once found in aerosol sprays, and other ozone-depleting substances like the soil fumigant methyl bromide produced the first ozone hole over the Antarctic, which was identified in 1985. Emissions of those compounds were banned under the Montreal Protocol, which has been signed by 191 countries.
–The New York Times

Engineering Planet Earth?
 With political action on curbing greenhouse gases stalled, a bipartisan panel of scientists, former government officials and national security experts is recommending that the government begin researching a radical fix: directly manipulating the Earth’s climate to lower the temperature.

Members said they hoped that such extreme engineering techniques, which include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, would never be needed.

But in its report, the panel said it is time to begin researching and testing such ideas in case “the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required.”

The 18-member panel was convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research organization based in Washington founded by four senators — Democrats and Republicans — to offer policy advice to the government. In interviews, some of the panel members said they hoped that the mere discussion of such drastic steps would jolt the public and policy makers into meaningful action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which they called the highest priority.

The idea of engineering the planet is “fundamentally shocking,” David Keith, an energy expert at Harvard and the University of Calgary and a member of the panel, said. “It should be shocking.”
–The New York Times

Canada to test chemical safety
The Conservative government is set to target a new batch of chemicals used in common consumer products — including toothpaste and body wash — to determine if they’re safe for people and the environment.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Environment Minister Peter Kent announced the renewal of the government’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) with a boost of more than $500 million over the next five years.

Substances commonly used in plastic containers, clothing, cleaning products, electronics and batteries are among the chemicals to be reviewed to determine whether they need better regulation or other action, including being banned.

During the first phase of the plan, the federal government banned bisphenol A in baby bottles — an international first that began with a listing of toxicity of the hormone-disrupting chemical.
–The Montreal Gazette

Organic ag leader F. Kirschenmann to lecture

September 19, 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.

Organic advocate Kirschenmann to lecture
Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Fred Kirschenmann

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

‘Cleaning Minnesota’s Water’
Read “Cleaning Minnesota’s Water,” Minnesota Public Radio’s comprehensive package of reports on water quality in the state and the debates and sometimes conflicting strategies for improving it.

Dayton outlines Asian carp plan
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr argues that to combat the spread of Asian carp could mean taking chances.

“We may have to take some risks here,” said Landwehr, speaking at an aquatic invasive species summit at the State Capitol.

That is, taking actions against invading species that in the future, in hindsight, may be deemed less than effective, he explained. But Landwehr and other officials argued that Minnesota does not have the luxury of time.

Landwehr, Gov. Mark Dayton, and a host of state and federal officials attended the summit.

An action plan — more of draft, Dayton later described it — was presented by DNR officials.

One step called for congressional action to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency authority to close the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Ford lock and dam on the Mississippi River if Asian carp are detected in the area.
–ECM Publishers

What went wrong with carp barrier plans?
Four years ago, with the ecological dangers posed by Asian carp already well-documented, state Department of Natural Resources officials backed a $5 million plan to build an underwater sound bubble barrier across the Mississippi River as far downstream as Winona.

The following year, in 2008, the DNR was given $500,000 to start the project.

Now, sounding fresh alarms about the threat from Asian carp, the state is seeking at least $7 million in emergency funding for a barrier to be built near Prescott, Wis.

But much of the original money has never been spent.

The back story of what happened to the original initiative is one of confusion and misunderstanding — amid doubts about whether a barrier would even work — that ate away valuable time in the race to stop the spread of voracious Asian carp into Minnesota waters. Only last month the DNR unveiled evidence that the carp, which can grow to 60 pounds and outmuscle native species for food, were in the St. Croix River.
–The Star Tribune

Drought underlines ‘water-energy nexus’
The worst single-year drought in the recorded history of Texas has caused cotton crops to wither and ranchers to sell off cattle. It may also hurt power plants, which need vast amounts of water to cool their equipment.

“We will be very concerned” if it does not rain by spring, said Kent Saathoff, an official with the Texas electric grid operator.
The worries in Texas bear out what an increasingly vocal group of researchers has been warning in recent years: that planners must pay more attention to how much water is needed in energy production.

“Water and energy are really linked,” said Henrik Larsen, a water policy expert with the DHI Group, a research and consulting firm based in Denmark. “If you save water, you save energy, and vice-versa.”
–The New York Times

Chinese protest solar plant’s pollution
In a fresh indication of growing public anger over pollution, hundreds of demonstrators in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang were camped outside a solar panel manufacturing plant that stands accused of contaminating a nearby river.

The demonstration was the latest move in a four-day protest that has sometimes turned violent.

The unrest began when about 500 residents gathered outside the plant, in Haining, roughly 80 miles southwest of Shanghai. Some protesters stormed the five-year-old factory compound, overturning eight company vehicles, smashing windows and destroying offices. The next day, four police cars were damaged.
–The New York Times

Farm groups push subsidy overhaul plans
Some farm groups are rushing to put out ideas for overhauling farm subsidies as the congressional deficit-cutting supercommittee starts work.

The National Corn Growers Association has a plan that would scrap the current system of fixed, direct payments and use the money both for deficit reduction and to expand the revenue-protection program known as ACRE that was created in 2008.

Under the existing ACRE program, which relatively few farmers have signed up for, payments are triggered only when state-level farm revenue drops below the average on a combination of average yields and commodity prices.

Under the new plan, the payment trigger would be based on crop-reporting districts, which are areas within a state. That would make the program more likely to pay out to farmers — and more expensive to taxpayers.
–The Des Moines Register

MPCA approves taconite permit
Acting over the objections of environmentalists and Indian tribes, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency agreed to allow U.S. Steel Corp. to increase mercury emissions at an Iron Range mining facility without also requiring a precise schedule of reductions elsewhere.

The vote of the citizens commission that oversees the agency was unanimous and made without discussion.

The long-awaited decision moves forward a $300 million expansion of U.S. Steel’s Keetac taconite processing facility in Keewatin, Minn., that will create an estimated 160 new jobs. It also includes technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, making it the first facility in Minnesota to do so under new federal rules.

Environmentalists, however, said the decision conflicts with the state’s long-term plan to reduce mercury, a toxic metal that has polluted two-thirds of the state’s waters and can make Minnesota fish unsafe for children and pregnant women.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin governor takes on ballast rules
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and several other governors are joining the federal government and Canada in demanding New York reconsider shipping regulations that protect waters from invasive species but could damage Wisconsin’s economy.

In a letter sent to New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Walker joined forces with the Republican governors John Kasick of Ohio and Mitch Daniels of Indiana to argue that unless the New York Department of Environmental Conservation regulations are amended, the regulations could require the St. Lawrence Seaway to close down, resulting in thousands of maritime-related job losses in the Great Lakes states and in Canada.

New York’s regulations deal with ballast discharge. When cargo ships are not fully loaded, they have to take on water to maintain their stability. This water is stored in ballast tanks, and it may contain aquatic organisms.

When ships discharge this water in harbors, they may also discharge these organisms that could become invasive, Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, said.

The New York regulations require boats to install ballast cleaning technology that will clean ballast water to a certain quality standard. The regulations also create a water quality standard 100 times stronger than the current standards given by the International Maritime Organization, which coordinates international shipping policy.
–The Badger Herald

College GOP protests bottle ban
College Republicans passed out bottled water to passers-by in protest of the College of St. Benedict’s new ban on bottled water in campus vending machines, cafeterias and sporting events. The protesters said they aren’t against sustainability but are defending the free-market system.

“Just as the government should not ban plastic bottles in America, a school administration should not ban the sale of plastic water bottles on their campus,” said Ryan Lyk, chairman of the Minnesota College Republicans, in a statement.

This fall, St. Ben’s became the first school in the state — and the ninth in the nation — to ban the sale of plain bottled water on campus. Macalester took a similar step Sept. 1.
–The Star Tribune

Denver seeks toilet mandate
Denver utility managers bothered by the city’s penchant for old-style porcelain toilets that use twice as much water as federal standards are pushing for a legislative fix.

They’ve asked lawmakers to consider setting a statewide toilet standard of 1.28 gallons per flush.

Toilets account for about a quarter of household water use, and the new standard could save 44,000 acre-feet of water a year by 2050. An acre-foot is said to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year.

Toilet makers, who supported similar limits in California and Texas, have embraced the idea.

New toilets sold today use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency limits set in the 1990s.

But in Denver, an abundance of homes still have old-style fixtures that use an average volume of 3.14 gallons per flush, according to Denver Water’s latest “end-use study.”
–The Denver Post