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.
Thousands of oceans just light years away
Water is everywhere on Earth, but nobody has ever been able to determine conclusively how it got here. Scientists know that the early Earth was far too hot to hold water or water vapor, but then, in relatively short geological time, the oceans appeared.
In a discovery that researchers say sheds important new light on that age-old question, a European team reported that it has found a very cold reservoir of water vapor in space that could explain where the water came from.
The region they discovered is at the outer reaches of a dusty disk surrounding a star 175 light-years away. The star and disk are in the early stages of forming planets, much as Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago.
The scientists’ conclusion from the new finding: Life-giving H2O was almost certainly delivered to Earth via comets and asteroids known to originate in these cold but water-filled zones, which were assumed to also be present when our solar system was forming.
–The Washington Post
Oct. 25 deadline for $500 clean-up contest
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?
Then we have a contest for you.
The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.
In addition to the two statewide prizes, a grant from the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, will provide two additional $500 prizes for the best ideas coming from entrants in the 14 counties the foundation serves in Central Minnesota.
Lecture on water and ag set Nov. 10
Don’t miss the Nov. 10 free public lecture on water and the future of agriculture by Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement.
His lecture, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, is the sixth in a series. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited. Please register to reserve your place.
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 Press of Kentucky. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”
View video of past lectures in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.
DNA evidence puts Asian carp in Twin Cities
Water samples from the Mississippi River downstream from the Ford Dam in Minneapolis have tested positive for genetic material from silver carp, indicating the invasive Asian species may be present in the Twin Cities stretch of the river, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Known as environmental DNA (eDNA) testing, the results are a chemical indication that some silver carp are in the river, but they do not provide any information on the possible number of fish present, their size or whether they are breeding.
The Mississippi River eDNA testing was conducted in September by the National Park Service and the DNR after similar testing in June indicated the presence of silver carp in the St. Croix River.
The DNR will immediately hire a commercial fisherman to begin netting and searching for Asian carp below the Ford Dam, also known as Lock and Dam 1. No Asian carp were discovered this summer in the St. Croix River after a nine-day search by DNR biologists and a commercial fisherman, but that doesn’t necessarily mean some fish aren’t present.
“The eDNA tests are very sensitive, but they can only tell us that DNA is present in the water,” said Tim Schlagenhaft, Mississippi River biologist. “In other states where DNA testing has resulted in positive samples, the fish have proven very difficult to subsequently capture, and we expect this to the case in the Mississippi River if the fish are in present in low numbers.”
In the most recent round of Mississippi River eDNA testing, 14 of 49 samples were positive for silver carp.
Drainage blamed for Minnesota R. flow increase
A comprehensive new study pinpoints agriculture — specifically, half a century of artificial field drainage — as the primary force behind the massive runoff of sediment that is adding pollution to the Mississippi River and threatening the future of Lake Pepin.
The study, presented at a conference in St. Paul, identifies with new precision the sources of sediment that is slowly filling in Lake Pepin, one of the state’s recreational jewels, and coursing down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, where it contributes to a massive “dead zone” that cannot sustain aquatic life.
Scientists said it’s the latest in a growing body of evidence indicating that transformation of the land from prairie and wetlands to corn and soybeans — not, as some have argued, more rain and natural erosion — has accelerated the rate of sedimentation.
“It’s the weight of the evidence,” said Peter Wilcock, a geography professor from Johns Hopkins University.
He was not involved the study but attended the University of Minnesota’s annual Water Resources Center conference, where it was presented.
–The Star Tribune
DNR questions Christmas Lake gate
A new electronic gate — installed at a cost of $30,000 — is ready to drop its arm across the public boat ramp on Christmas Lake in Shorewood, if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approves its use in an experiment aimed at stopping the spread of zebra mussels.
“The next boating season is just seven months away. So there is no let up on the urgency,” said Joe Shneider, president of the Christmas Lake homeowners association.
Residents around Christmas Lake, as well as Lotus Lake and Lake Minnewashta in Chanhassen, want to work with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to require all boats launching at the lakes to first pass inspections for aquatic invasive species. But the plan would require boaters to travel to a centralized inspection point before entering the lakes, and the DNR says there’s no legal way to compel them.
As a first-of-its-kind grass-roots attempt to let boats launch into a lake only after an inspection — and to close ramps outside of inspection hours — the proposal is being watched by lake associations around the state and by anglers, some of whom oppose more ramp controls.
–The Star Tribune
Opinion: EPA chief rips Republican critics
Read a Los Angeles Times op-ed commentary in which Lisa Jackson accuses Congressional Republicans of trying to cripple regulation of air and water pollution. She writes:
“Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s environmental laws… Using the economy as cover, and repeating unfounded claims that “regulations kill jobs,” they have pushed through an unprecedented rollback of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation’s waste-disposal laws, all of which have successfully protected our families for decades. We all remember “too big to fail”; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called “too dirty to fail.”
Opinion: Farm Bill should retain conservation
Read a Des Moines Register editorial on the federal Farm Bill. It calls on Congress to maintain some spending for conservation programs, and to make conservation compliance a requirement for subsidized crop insurance. Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam makes the same argument about crop insurance in Freshwater’s current newsletter.
Legacy money eyed for a stadium
A Republican leader says some of his colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature are considering a plan that would rely on a portion of the state’s Legacy funds to pay for a new Vikings Stadium.
It’s an option they say must be considered as Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers continue to discuss how to pay for a stadium. Other options include ticket taxes, a sports memorabilia tax, slot machines at the state’s horse tracks or a new casino in downtown Minneapolis.
But critics say voters didn’t intend to use that money for professional sports stadiums when they approved a higher sales tax in 2008.
“I certainly think that taking a look at the Legacy money to fund a stadium is something that should be on the table,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, an assistant Majority Leader in the Minnesota House.
There isn’t an organized effort by legislative leaders to tap the Legacy funds yet, Daudt said. But there is increasing talk among members and GOP staff that this may be the only way that the Republican-controlled House and Senate pass a Vikings stadium bill.
Daudt said the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund could generate about $50 million annually to finance the stadium. He said that would be enough to pay both the state’s and Ramsey County’s share but is unsure if that would be the plan.
“You certainly can’t argue that the Minnesota Vikings and these sports teams in the state of Minnesota aren’t a part of the state’s heritage and certainly part of the state’s legacy,” Daudt said
–Minnesota Public Radio
‘Wonder fish’ to environmental pariah
The Asian carp infesting the major rivers of America didn’t sneak into the country in the ballast of ocean freighters, as so many invasive species have. They didn’t slowly invade through freighter locks and into the Great Lakes, as the sea lamprey did.
Decades ago, federal and state officials purposefully imported carp, which they believed were “the wonder fish.”
The carp were imported because officials were eager to find a safer way than chemicals to control weeds, algae, sewage and parasites. Grass carp eat as much as three times their body weight in weeds each day, replacing the toxic chemicals commonly used for weed control.
But during the past four decades, not only have the Asian carp escaped into the wild, they also have expanded their reign to rivers and lakes across America — as state and federal officials have stood idly by.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer
China faces groundwater pollution
More than half of the groundwater monitored in 182 Chinese cities by the Ministry of Land and Resources was classified as bad, meaning the health of individuals could be harmed, the China Daily reported, citing a report by the ministry.
Groundwater at 57.2 percent of the 4,110 monitoring stations in 182 cities was classified as bad last year, the newspaper reported. The quality of groundwater in most northern and eastern parts of China was worse last year than it was in 2009, according to the report. The ministry’s report didn’t identify locations, according to the newspaper.
Household sewage, industrial pollution, and the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides has caused further deterioration of groundwater, the newspaper reported, citing Ma Chaode, former director of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s fresh-water program in China.
EPA approves strict Oregon standards
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved Oregon’s new standards for toxic water pollution, the strictest in the United States.
The new standards, approved by the EPA’s Seattle office, are designed to protect tribal members and others who eat large amounts of contaminated fish.
Oregon’s current water quality standards are built on an assumption that people eat 17.5 grams of fish a day, about a cracker’s worth and typical of most states. The proposed standard boosts that to 175 grams a day, just shy of an 8-ounce meal.
The change dramatically tightens Oregon’s human health criteria for a host of pollutants, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers and pesticides.
That could boost cost for industry such as paper mills and for municipal sewage treatment plants, increasing sewer rates.
–The Portland Oregonian
Cost rises for ‘Erin Brockovich’ clean-up
PG&E Corp. said that replacing underground drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., that was contaminated by utility operations decades ago will cost much more than the $54 million the company had set aside for the project.
The town’s underground drinking water supply was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical, after PG&E’s utility used the substance at its natural gas pumping station there to control algae and protect metal equipment from rust.
The groundwater problem in Hinkley was made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”
Last week, the state agency overseeing the cleanup of Hinkley’s contaminated groundwater ordered PG&E to provide a new, permanent source of drinking water to Hinkley residents. Rather than continue to supply bottled water to residents, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Lahontan Region told PG&E it would have to provide a permanent water replacement system for all properties served by wells that are near an underground plume of hexavalent chromium and that have been “impacted” by the plume.