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.
EPA suggests water systems test for ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical
The Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting that water utilities nationwide test their drinking water for hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, after an independent survey found the chemical in tap water drawn from 31 cities.
The EPA said it is issuing guidance to the utilities explaining how to test for the chemical but is not requiring tests at this time. The agency said it will also give technical help to the 31 cities identified in the survey – including Washington and Bethesda – so they can set up a monitoring and sampling procedure for hexavalent chromium, a chemical made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”
Testing for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is technically challenging. Many laboratories that handle standard tests for water companies are not equipped to perform the more sophisticated tests.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with 10 senators representing some of the 31 communities to discuss the findings of the survey, which was conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.
There is no federal limit for the amount of hexavalent chromium that can be in drinking water. The EPA is reviewing emerging science on the question to determine if the chemical’s presence in drinking water poses a clear threat to public health and whether a limit should be set. That work is expected to be completed by summer.
(The Environmental Working Group analysis did not sample water from any Minnesota cities.)
–The Washington Post
Wisconsin to relax ballast-water rules
Wisconsin officials announced that ballast water regulations they adopted in February are too strict and should be relaxed.
The Department of Natural Resources says the technology simply isn’t available to comply with the strict ballast-water filtration regulations developed last year and imposed by the state in February.
Instead, the DNR is proposing to scale back regulations to those suggested by the International Maritime Organization.
The current state standards require filtration or killing of organisms 100 times smaller than the IMO standards. The rule change would put Wisconsin at the same filtration regulation level as Minnesota.
–The Duluth News Tribune
Where will the next water pollution disaster hit?
When an estimated 184 million gallons (697 million liters) of industrial waste spilled into Hungary’s Marcal River in early October, arsenic and mercury threatened to taint water supplies and degrade rivers, both at the site and for hundreds of miles downstream. In some ways, Hungary’s toxic mud disaster was a wake-up call, shining a spotlight on potential water pollution hotspots around the globe.
Where might disaster strike next?
Only a tiny fraction of the ore miners exhume contains gold, copper, lead, zinc, or the other metals they’re after. The rest is waste, or tailings, full of large quantities of metals and minerals ranging from benign to very toxic. These fine-grained wastes are often held in tailings ponds that can cover many square miles.
Unfortunately the dams holding tailing ponds aren’t always examples of high-level engineering and, in some countries, may be made by simply bulldozing the tailings themselves into an embankment, explains geologist Johnnie Moore, of the University of Montana.
“There is the potential for huge amounts of [toxic waste] to move into a river system whenever any of those things break, and in fact it does happen,” he said.
(Part of a National Geographic series on global water issues.)
–National Geographic News
Beet processor to pay $50,000 in water case
American Crystal Sugar Company has agreed to a $50,000 civil penalty and promised to complete actions requested by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to settle alleged violations of state environmental protection and reporting regulations at its facility in East Grand Forks, Minn.
Some of the alleged violations occurred in May 2009 when runoff from company land application sites entered Grand Marais creek, resulting in complaints about odors and discoloration. This occurred after the company applied industrial by-products to farm fields at excessive levels and too close to waterways during the 2008 cropping season. In addition, the company, once notified of the complaint, failed to take necessary actions to minimize pollution to Grand Marais Creek. The creek is currently on the Minnesota’s list of impaired waters for high sediment and pH levels, and low levels of dissolved oxygen.
The MPCA also alleges that the company used testing results from a non-certified laboratory, failed to report all monitoring results and failed to maintain quality assurance procedures adequate to ensure compliance with testing requirements. The company also failed to adequately control vegetation in a wastewater treatment pond.
In addition to agreeing to the $50,000 civil penalty, American Crystal agreed to submit plans and update procedures to ensure future compliance. The company has already completed many of the required actions and paid the penalty.
–MPCA News Release
Outdoor Heritage fund stakeholders forum set Jan. 6
The Dedicated Fund Working Group, sponsored by the Izaak Walton League and other Minnesota conservation groups, will host a forum Jan. 6 that will examine how the state is spending new revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008.
The forum is free, but seating is limited and the organizers request pre-registration. Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League chairs the working group.
The meeting will be held at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Park from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, one day before the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual Roundtable at the same site.
About $250 million a year is being generated by the tax increase. One-third of that is designated to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. One-third is designated to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.
EPA, Texas clash over greenhouse gas limits
The feud between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency reached a new level, with federal officials saying that they will take over the granting of permits for new power plants and refineries in the state because Texas refuses to regulate its emissions of greenhouse gases.
The showdown centers on Texas’ opposition to the Obama administration’s program to rein in heat-trapping emissions, which has become a symbol of a broader struggle by industry and some Republican politicians to thwart such regulatory efforts.
Texas and several other states are fighting the mandates in court, and Republican leaders who will take over the House of Representatives next year have made no secret of their opposition, arguing that mandating cuts in industrial emissions will harm the economy.
–The New York Times
The carbon dioxide record at the heart of climate debate
MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean.
They make no noise. But once an hour, they spit out a number, and for decades, it has been rising relentlessly.
The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.
Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming.
–The New York Times
Group threatens suit over gray wolves
A wildlife conservation group put the government on notice that it would sue to restore wolves across the United States, far beyond a range now limited mostly to Alaska, the Rockies and the Great Lakes.
The move by the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Arizona, marks the latest twist in a long and heated battle over federal protections for wolf populations first established in 1978.
That fight has centered recently in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where wolves have recovered so well that Montana, Idaho and Wyoming want the Obama administration to remove them from the Endangered Species List.
Rather than remove protections, or focus on protecting them only in certain regions, the Center said it was long overdue for the federal government to develop a national plan.
A trout stream reborn
PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — The Rio Blanco tumbles out of a range of 12,000-foot mountains in the San Juan National Forest into a picture-perfect valley that’s reminiscent of a miniature Yosemite. In its upper reaches, the Blanco runs in a whitewater cascade, where native cutthroat trout thrive. In the valley, on the meadowland of El Rancho Pinoso, a privately owned ranch that rents out cabins and provides fly-fishing access, the water slows and deepens, providing an excellent habitat for introduced rainbows that frequently exceed 20 inches.
But it wasn’t always that way. The Rio Blanco has had a little assistance from a hydrologist named Dave Rosgen.
“When I first visited El Rancho Pinoso in 1987, it seemed like the valley was one big gravel bar,” Rosgen said. “The Blanco was anywhere from 350 to 500 feet wide and just inches deep, when the river bed should be 50 or 60 feet wide. You had a system that had no hope to be anything but a very poor fishery; with a little help, the stream could provide great fish habitat, and give visitors a chance to feel good.”
Rosgen began doing stream restoration in the late 1960s, when he worked in the United States Forest Service. There, he witnessed the destruction of streams by the erosion resulting from clear cutting practices.
–The New York Times
Albertine Kimble – A guardian of the marshes
A daughter of Plaquemines Parish, her camouflage outfit the color of the forest, checks the oil. She checks the steering, the coolant, the gas. She makes sure that everything is tied down or stored away, so that nothing loose will fly into the fanlike propeller at the rear of her airboat.
“Maintenance,” she says. “Maintenance.”
Then off she roars, a singular woman named Albertine Marie Kimble, guiding her airboat across the grass and into the precious marsh waters, where she is most at home. An honor guard of green-winged teal ducks rises to greet her, the only resident of this southeastern Louisiana spot called Carlisle.
“Wow!” she shouts. “Whee-e-e-e!”
The BP oil spill of 2010 has come and gone, mostly. The cleanup armies have been reduced to platoons, the oil company’s public-relations blitz has lost its apologetic urgency, and you have to know where to look to find any remnants of the catastrophe. But Albertine Kimble, protector of these waters, is still here; she has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
–The New York Times
USDA seeks conservation projects to fund
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals for new conservation projects that support comprehensive efforts under way to improve the water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River from North-Central Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Mississippi River is one of America’s most valuable water resources,” said U.S. Ag Secretary Vilsack. “Through the cumulative actions of conservation-minded farmers, we can continue to provide our nation with the food, fiber and fuel we rely on, while at the same time ensuring cleaner waters than we’ve seen in decades.”
As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA is providing up to $40 million in financial assistance for new partnership projects in 43 priority watersheds in 13 states. USDA will use a competitive process to distribute the available funding through existing conservation programs such as the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.
–USDA News Release
U.S., Mexico agree to raise L. Mead’s level
The United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could raise the level of Lake Mead by about 3 feet and open the spigot on future cross-border Colorado River agreements.
Under the accord, Mexico will be allowed to store up to 260,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead while it repairs canals and pipelines damaged in a 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Mexicali on April 4.
The extra water could raise the surface of Lake Mead by 3 feet or more, enough perhaps to stave off federally mandated shortages on the Colorado River for another year. Under such a declaration, the amount of water that Nevada and Arizona could take from the system would be reduced.
–The Las Vegas Review-Journal
Chesapeake Bay coastal areas are sinking
First, the good news: Sea levels around the Chesapeake Bay are not rising as quickly as other places in the world – actually, they are moving about half as fast as the global average.
Now, the bad news: Coastal lands around the Bay are sinking more rapidly than elsewhere around the planet, especially in Hampton Roads.
It is this sinking phenomenon, called subsidence, that makes Hampton Roads one of the spots in the United States most vulnerable to rising sea levels and to events such as flooding, tidal surges and storms. Only New Orleans is more susceptible.
Such are the findings of a study released Monday by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a branch of the College of William and Mary.