Posts Tagged ‘pesticides’

Cows, carp, salamanders, muskies and more

July 18, 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.

House bill would curb EPA’s water regulation
The Environmental Protection Agency’s powers to set clean-water standards would be limited under legislation passed by the Republican-led U.S. House over threats of a veto by the Obama administration.

 The bill blocks the EPA from tightening water pollutant limits without a state’s consent if the agency previously approved the state standard. The measure, which passed 239-184, is part of an effort to rein in what Republicans say is an agency’s regulatory overreach threatening the economy. Sixteen Democrats joined Republicans to support the measure.

Supporters said limits on the EPA would give farmers, coal companies and other businesses that discharge pollutants into waterways greater certainty that standards won’t be changed.

 The EPA is engaged in an “unprecedented regulatory grab” during a “difficult time in our economy,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during debate.

The bill is the “single-worst assault on clean-water protections in a generation,” Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
–Bloomberg

 Asian carp: How big an impact in Great Lakes?
The question of how deadly an Asian carp invasion would be to the Great Lakes has led to a fierce debate among researchers, environmental groups and governments, who disagree on the answer.

 The issue has become urgent as researchers have found that, while much of the public’s attention has been focused on the Chicago canal where an electric fence so far is keeping the fish away from Lake Michigan, there are at least 13 other lesser-known pathways for the fish to get into the lakes. Most allow carp to breach wetlands during floods, dumping them into rivers leading to the lakes.

 In Indiana’s Wabash River, spawning carp actually are closer to Lake Erie than spawning populations near Chicago are to Lake Michigan.

 If they do get in, Duane Chapman, a leading Asian carp expert, said the fish probably could survive in all the Great Lakes, including cold Superior, because they feed in the top layers of water, where the temperatures are warmer. But spawning might not happen in all of them.

 Not all scientists agree; some say fears of the fish devastating the lakes are severely exaggerated.
–The Detroit Free Press

Study documents herbicides entering the atmosphere
When soil moisture levels increase, pesticide losses to the atmosphere through volatilization also rise. In one long-term field study, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists found that herbicide volatilization consistently resulted in herbicide losses that exceed losses from field runoff.

 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Timothy Gish and ARS micrometeorologist John Prueger led the investigation, which looked at the field dynamics of atrazine and metolachlor, two herbicides commonly used in corn production. Both herbicides are known to contaminate surface and ground water, which was primarily thought to occur through surface runoff.

Gish works at the ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., and Prueger works at the agency’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa.

Prueger and Gish observed that when air temperatures increased, soil moisture levels had a tremendous impact on how readily atrazine and metolachlor volatilized into the air, a key factor that had not been included in previous models of pesticide volatilization. When soils were dry and air temperatures increased, there was no increase in herbicide volatilization, but herbicide volatilization increased significantly when temperatures rose and soils were wet.

Most surprising was that throughout the study, herbicide volatilization losses were significantly larger than surface runoff. When averaged over the two herbicides, loss by volatilization was about 25 times larger than losses from surface runoff.
–USDA News Release

 Endangered salamander sparks San Antonio conservation
Who would believe that a translucent sightless amphibian that dwells only in dark underground caves could force a big Texas city to not only slash its water use but make water waste illegal? But the rare, four-inch Texas blind salamander has done pretty much just that – and spawned an unusual water story in San Antonio, where impressive conservation efforts are now being tested by one of the worst droughts in memory.

 While most Americans can’t even name the source of their drinking water, many San Antonians know not just their water source – an underground limestone formation called the Edwards Aquifer– but its height above sea level. That’s because that level, which is posted every day on the city water authority’s website, determines whether they can sprinkle their lawns — and whether the water police are likely to be out in full force.  Recently the Edwards level has measured between 640 and 650 feet, which means that residents can irrigate only once a week. If the aquifer’s level drops below 640 feet, the city will declare Stage 3 Drought and allow landscape watering only every other week.

 So what’s all the fuss about the level of the Edwards Aquifer?  Enter the Texas blind salamander.
–The National Geographic Daily News

Have some sympathy for the reviled invasives
Maybe weeds and invasive species aren’t such bad things. Listen to National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” host Ira Flato interview two experts who suggest we all might want to revise our opinions on invasives.
–National Public Radio

Chinese farm feeds on pollutants
China has some of the world’s worst water pollution. And the country’s farms are responsible for a big part of that problem. So there is a certain irony in visiting a farm here that purports to actually help reduce pollution from other sources. But that’s the claim of a 100-acre hydroponic farm in China’s southwest.

 The farm on the edge of Dianchi lake grows some 30 types of vegetables, including long green rows of lettuce and spinach that sway in the wind and float on platforms with their roots in the water.

 Where other farms would need fertilizer to provide nutrients for their crops, the vegetables here get their nutrients from sewage that’s been dumped in the water by the city of Kunming and its environs. Sales representative Cao Jiangrui said that’s all the fertilizer they need. She said government inspections to prove the vegetables are safe to eat, and that by putting the nutrients to use, the pilot project helps, in a small way, to clean up Dianchi lake.
–Public Radio International

 Research: Dairy cows pollute less on pasture
Computer simulation studies by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than its more sheltered sisters.

 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Al Rotz led a team that evaluated how different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm would affect the environment. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.  Rotz works at the ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit in University Park, Pa.

 For this study, Rotz and his team used the Integrated Farm System Model, a computer program that simulates the major biological and physical processes and interactions of a crop, beef or dairy farm. The scientists collected a range of field data on grazing systems, manure management and their effects on nutrient loss to the environment. Then they used their farm model, supported by the field data, to evaluate the environmental dynamics of four different dairy farms in all types of weather over 25 years.

 The model generated estimates for ammonia emissions from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, soil erosion and phosphorus losses from field runoff. Estimates for emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from both primary production and the secondary production of pesticides, fuels, electricity and other resources were also considered.

 Compared to high confinement systems, keeping dairy cows outdoors all year lowered levels of ammonia emission by about 30 percent. The model results also indicated that the total emissions for the greenhouse gases methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were 8 percent lower in a year-round outdoor production system than in a high-production confinement system.
–Science Daily

Study finds benefits in switchgrass production
The Midwest could produce more food, more fuel, less nitrogen runoff and lower greenhouse gas emissions if farmers switched some corn plantings to dedicated energy crops, according to a new study.

 A move from corn to next-generation ethanol feedstocks miscanthus and switchgrass could switch the Corn Belt from a net greenhouse gas source to a sink, according to the research, published in this month’s edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The paper, written by researchers with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Colorado State University, the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Research Service and the Energy Biosciences Institute, focuses not on the conversion of non-agricultural land to biofuels production but on how changed planting patterns could affect agricultural outputs and the environment.

Pointing out that 30 percent of the 2009 corn crop was dedicated to ethanol, the authors argue that redirecting the land on which that corn was planted could have a significant impact on domestic land use without triggering major food and feed market changes.
–The New York Times

 State shutdown may affect muskie record
Put an asterisk next to Art Lyons and his 54-pound, 56-inch muskellunge that has held the mantle of Minnesota state record since 1957.

 An Arizona angler caught a bigger one, he and his family say, but with the state Department of Natural Resources largely shut down with the rest of Minnesota’s government, they stumbled in their attempts to get the fish in the record books.

 And with the 57.5-inch, 54.5- to 55-pound bruiser now lying in pieces in a taxidermist’s studio, we’ll likely never know for sure.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin court affirms DNR role in groundwater
A unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholds the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ authority to protect all waters in the state, including groundwater.

 At stake in Lake Beulah v. DNR was whether the DNR had authority to consider the impact pumping groundwater has on lakes, rivers and streams. In a 7-0 decision, the Court found that the DNR has both the authority and the duty to consider the environmental impact of pumping large quantities of groundwater.

 “We conclude that… the DNR has the authority and general duty to consider whether a proposed high capacity well may harm waters of the state,” reads the decision written by Justice Patrick Crooks. “We further hold that to comply with this general duty, the DNR must consider the environmental impact of a proposed high capacity well when presented with sufficient concrete, scientific evidence of potential harm to waters of the state.”
–The Ashland Current

 2009-10 West Coast beach erosion was severe
Knowing that the U.S. west coast was battered during the winter before last by a climatic pattern expected more often in the future, scientists have now pieced together a San Diego-to-Seattle assessment of the damage wrought by that winter’s extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels. Getting a better understanding of how the 2009-10 conditions tore away and reshaped shorelines will help coastal experts better predict future changes that may be in store for the Pacific coast, the researchers say.

“The stormy conditions of the 2009-10 El Niño winter eroded the beaches to often unprecedented levels at sites throughout California and vulnerable sites in the Pacific Northwest,” said Patrick Barnard, USGS coastal geologist. In California, for example, winter wave energy was 20 percent above average for the years dating back to 1997, resulting in shoreline erosion that exceeded the average by 36 percent, he and his colleagues found.

Among the most severe erosion was at Ocean Beach in San Francisco where the winter shoreline retreated 184 ft., 75 percent more than in a typical winter. The erosion resulted in the collapse of one lane of a major roadway and led to a $5 million emergency remediation project. In the Pacific Northwest, the regional impacts were moderate, but the southerly shift in storm tracks, typical of El Niño winters, resulted in severe local wave impacts to the north-of-harbor mouths and tidal inlets. For example, north of the entrance to Willapa Bay along the Washington coast, 345 ft. of shoreline erosion during the winter of 2009-10 destroyed a road.
–USGS News Release

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Greenhouse gases; drugs in the water

April 20, 2009

 

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

EPA designates greenhouse gases as pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

The E.P.A. said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling initiates a 60-day comment period before any proposals for regulations governing emissions of heat-trapping gases are published.
–The New York Times

Tons of drugs released into U.S. waters
U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water , according to an Associated Press investigation.

Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking. For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder. Nitroglycerin is a heart drug and is also used in explosives. Copper shows up in pipes and contraceptives.
–The Associated Press

Lake Vermilion state park in jeopardy
In 2007, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced his initiative to buy 2,500 acres of land along Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. At the time, he said securing the land would make the park one of the nicest parks in the nation.

“We hope through this proposal that we’ll be able to give everyone in Minnesota and up at the lake or up north experience through this next state park,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty expressed confidence that the state would purchase the land from owner U.S. Steel, saying at one point that the deal won’t fall apart.

But now, Pawlenty appears to have all but given up on the park.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA demands endocrine tests on pesticides
The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said.

Researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals’ hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs. Known as endocrine disruptors, the chemicals may affect the hormones that humans and animals produce or secrete.
–The Washington Post

UM report documents ethanol’s water use
While recycling and other advancements have reduced water use in Minnesota’s corn-ethanol plants by a third of the levels of just a few years ago, increased reliance on irrigated corn has pushed water consumption to alarming levels in the desert Southwest and parts of California.

A University of Minnesota report notes that Minnesota’s 17 ethanol plants currently average about 3.5 gallons of water for each gallon of ethanol produced. This is down from about 10 gallons per gallon of ethanol just a decade earlier.

However, over-all water consumption rates rise quickly when ethanol is produced from corn that is irrigated, as it is on 207,000 acres in Minnesota or 3 percent of the state’s 7.8 million acres planted to corn.
–Minnpost.com

Lawmakers target Mississippi River management plan
The Mississippi River Critical Area Program guides development along a 72-mile stretch of the river through the Twin Cities metropolitan area, striving to balance environmental protection with local land-use preferences.

But some interests argue that the three-decade-old executive order needs an update.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Prior Lake mussel discovery spurs Minnetonka inspections
Lake Minnetonka boaters will feel new pressure this year to guard against spreading exotic water life following the recent discovery of zebra mussels in Prior Lake — the first metro-area lake to be infested by the unwanted shell creatures.

Officials plan a 30 percent increase in inspections of boats to look for ride-along aquatic life at public boat launches on Lake Minnetonka.
–The Star Tribune

Idaho requires fee to fight invasives
Under a new Idaho law, all motorized and non-motorized watercraft more than 10 feet long will be required to display an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker. They are expected to be available by the end of April.

The sticker prices are $10 for motorized boats registered in Idaho, $20 for other motorized vessels, and $5 for a nonmotorized vessel. Discounts for nonmotorized commercial fleets are available.
–The Idaho Statesman

Los Angeles raises water rates to spur conservation
Los Angeles businesses, landlords and residents will pay more for water starting June 1 if they don’t cut back at least 15 percent on usage under a plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power plan is aimed at sending water customers price incentives to encourage conservation.

The region is in the midst of a three-year drought, exacerbated by dwindling water allocations from the DWP’s Owens Valley aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s wholesale water supplier, announced it was cutting its allocations by about 10 percent, effective July 1.
–Los Angeles Business Journal

Bird deaths may result from salmonella, DNR says
Minnesota residents have found an increasing number of dead birds at feeders over the last couple of weeks. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a strain of salmonella may be to blame.

The bacteria that causes heavy mortality in birds is transmitted through the bird’s droppings.  The largest mortality seems to be in red polls and pine siskins. Two red polls that died recently in northern Minnesota were sent to the DNR pathology lab and tested positive for salmonella.
–Minnesota DNR

China faces water crisis
Over the past year getting clean water has been a struggle for many in China. In February one of the most severe droughts to hit China in a half-century affected some 5 million people and 2.5 million livestock in the provinces of Hebei and Henan, near Beijing. Farther south in Yancheng, Jiangsu, 300 kilometers from Shanghai, more than 200,000 people were cut off from clean water for three days when a chemical factory dumped carbolic acid into a river. Just before the Olympics last June, the coastal city of Qingdao, site of the sailing events, saw an explosion of algae in nearby waters that may have been caused by pollution.
–BusinessWeek

High Plains Aquifer down 9% since pumping began
The High Plains Aquifer, the sea of fresh water under the Great Plains, is about 9 percent smaller since irrigators and cities started tapping it in about 1950, according to a new report.

The total amount of drainable water in the aquifer in 2007 was about 2.9 billion acre-feet, a decline of about 270 million acre-feet since before development, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a report .

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the volume of water that would cover one acre to a depth of 1 foot.
–The Omaha World-Herald


Florida suit seeks to force EPA water quality review
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of letting Florida flout federal clean water requirements.

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said Monday the group is seeking a court order for EPA to conduct an independent review of a state list of water bodies and decide which ones need stricter pollution limits.
–The Associated Press

Ag groups seek to overturn pesticide ruling
Twenty-two agricultural organizations asked that the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear a landmark pesticide case, even as the Environmental Protection Agency, a party to the case, declined to do so. A January opinion on National Cotton Council of America v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from a three-judge panel was the first U.S. court ruling that pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation and permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The agriculture groups submitted their request in a friend of the court brief, arguing the decision ignored the definition in CWA of “point source” and that point sources are regulated only where they convey pollutants to navigable waters, not where they convey things that may at some later point result in water pollution.
–Wisconsin AgConnection

Dairy industry seeks to cut cows’ greenhouse gases
The U.S. dairy industry wants to engineer the “cow of the future” to pass less gas, a project aimed at cutting the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, industry leaders said.

The cow project aims to reduce intestinal methane, the single largest component of the dairy industry’s carbon footprint, said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center in Rosemont, Ill.
–The Associated Press