Posts Tagged ‘St. Croix River’

Climate change, declining moose, St. Croix ruling

February 16, 2010

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

How will climate change affect ecosystems?
Scientists have made lots of projections over the past few years about how warming temperatures and a changing climate will affect the planet. Real-world measurements have confirmed at least some of them: sea level is clearly rising, for instance, and the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is shrinking and thinning — in the latter case, faster than anyone had expected just a few years ago.

Other measurements are a lot more difficult, though. It’s reasonable to expect, for example, that ecosystems will change as plants and animals respond to a rising thermometer — but how do you measure the change of an ecosystem that may consist of hundreds or even thousands of species?

 The answer, evident in a paper just published in the journal Global Change Biology, is that it isn’t easy — but it’s possible nevertheless. A team of scientists led by Stephen Thackeray, an expert on lake ecology at the United Kingdom’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has combed through observations of more than 700 species of fish, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, plankton and a wide variety of plants across the U.K. taken between 1976 and 2005, and found a consistent trend: more than 80% of “biological events” — including flowering of plants, ovulation among mammals and migration of birds — are coming earlier today than they were in the 1970s.
–Time Magazine

 Minnesota moose decline, survey indicates
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Deparment of Natural Resources. 

Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 13-year decline and dropping to a record low of 28 calves per 100 cows. 

“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. 

Moose populations are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeast Minnesota moose range. Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 5,500 moose in northeastern Minnesota. The estimate, while not statistically different from last year’s 7,600, reinforces the inference that the moose population is declining.
–DNR news release 

Supreme Court rules against DNR on St. Croix mansion
The Minnesota Supreme Court sided with broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard in his fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over building a 10,000-square-foot house on the St. Croix River.

 The court ruled that the DNR, which oversees the lower portion of the federally protected riverway, had no authority to overturn the city of Lakeland’s approval of the project.

 Hubbard said the ruling vindicates what he has argued since the case began almost four years ago.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

DNR downplays court ruling’s impact
Is the crown jewel of regional rivers in trouble? 

No, said the deputy commissioner of the state agency that no longer will be able to veto local government shoreline decisions along the St. Croix River.

 Larry Kramka said the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that takes away the state’s ability to govern “setback variances” on waterfront construction won’t lead to significant new development pressure on the river. 

“All of the requirements remain in effect,” said Kramka, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The only part that was found illegal was that the DNR had a veto.”
–The Star Tribune

 Close Chicago canal, invasive species expert says
Unless Congress or federal agencies decide to permanently wall off the infamous Sanitary and Ship Canal from the Great Lakes, it will continue to be a superhighway for invasive species, a scientist warned at a Congressional hearing.

 The canal already has helped to spread invasive species such as Asian carp between the  Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and there are other species waiting to invade in both directions, said David Lodge, director of the Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame. Lodge is among the scientists conducting DNA testing for Asian carp in the canal.

“This is not just about Asian carp,” he told members of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
–The Detroit Free Press

 U.S. proposes $78.5 million anti-carp plan
Federal authorities presented a $78.5 million plan intended to block Asian carp, a hungry, huge, nonnative fish, from invading the Great Lakes.

 The threat has grown increasingly tense throughout the region in recent months as genetic material from the fish was found near and even in Lake Michigan.

In a meeting in Washington with leaders of some Great Lakes states, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies laid out an “Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework” to ensure that the fish, known to take over entire ecosystems, do not establish themselves in the lakes.
–The New York Times 

California eyes 43-mile tunnel for water
A giant tunnel – not a canal – has emerged as the leading option to ship Sacramento River water across the Delta to thirsty Californians from the Silicon Valley to San Diego.

 Officials guiding the Bay Delta Conservation Plan chose the tunnel for more detailed study at a meeting in Sacramento. The plan is an effort to secure California water supplies from environmental problems, flood risk and rising sea levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

About 25 million Californians and 2 million acres of farmland depend on the Delta today for at least some of their water supplies.
–The Sacramento Bee

Disinfectant reduces fish virus transmission
A disinfection solution presently used for salmon eggs also prevents transmission of the virus that causes viral hemorrhagic septicemia or VHS — one of the most dangerous viral diseases of fish — in other hatchery-reared fish eggs, according to new U.S. Geological Survey-led research. 

VHS has caused large fish kills in wild fish in the U.S., especially in the Great Lakes region, where thousands of fish have died from the virus over the last few years.  The disease causes internal bleeding in fish, and although in the family of viruses that includes rabies, is not harmful to humans. Thus far, the virus has been found in more than 25 species of fish in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, St. Clair, Superior and Ontario, as well as the Saint Lawrence River and inland lakes in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin.
–USGS News Release

 Nitrate limits working in Europe
The implementation of legislation to prevent nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters is proving effective, a European Commission report says.

 However, in some regions, nitrate concentrations exceed water quality standards and farmers must adopt sustainable practices, said the report on the implementation of the nitrates directive. It reported that between 2004 and 2007, nitrate concentrations in surface water including rivers, lakes and canals remained stable or fell at 70 per cent of monitored sites. Quality at 66 per cent of groundwater monitoring sites was stable or improving. 

But the report revealed a number of regions where nitrate levels were “worrying” in groundwater sites, including parts of Estonia, southeast Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, several parts of France, northern Italy, northeast Spain, southeast Slovakia, southern Romania, Malta and Cyprus.
–The Irish Times 

UN climate scientist faces scrutiny
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist’s version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations’ climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore. 

 But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso,  a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri’s resignation. 

Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
–The New York Times 

U.S. consolidates climate-change team
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will create a new  climate change office to gather and provide data to governments, industry and academia as part of a broad federal effort to prepare for long-term changes to the planet, officials said.

The new unit, to be known as the NOAA Climate Service, will assemble the roughly 550 scientists and analysts already working on the issue at the agency into a cohesive group under a single leader.

 The climate service is designed to be analogous to the National Weather Service, also part of NOAA, which celebrates its 140th birthday this month. Officials said they hoped the reorganization would shore up the profile of government climate science and perhaps drive the creation of new businesses like those that repackage and sell weather and census data.
–The New York Times

Two slots on Clean Water Council are open
The Minnesota Clean Water Council, which advises the governor and Legislature on water policy, has two vacancies. One is for a member representing an environmental organization to complete a four-year term expiring on Jan. 3, 2011. The second vacancy is for a representative of tribal governments. 

Council members are appointed by the Governor. The application deadline for the slot reserved for environmental organizations is Tuesday, Feb. 23. Information about the Clean Water Council and this vacancy can be found on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site, along with the application forms. Information about the Clean Water Council; its members, publications, and past meeting agendas and minutes can be found on the council’s web site at Clean Water Council

The vacancy for the tribal representative will be posted in March on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site.
–Clean Water Council news release 

California company eyes Mojave groundwater
More water could exist below privately owned valleys in the eastern Mojave Desert than in all of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, according to a geological study released by the company that hopes to tap the vast supply.

The study by CH2M Hill, a Colorado-based environmental consulting firm, also estimated that rain and snowmelt add about 32,000 acre-feet of water a year into the aquifer below the Cadiz Valley and nearby areas. That’s more than three times as much as previous estimates, a company official said.

“We always believed that this is a significant water resource, but having these findings, we are now able to point to the science behind it,” said Courtney Degener, investor relations manager for the Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc.

 The company wants to use the aquifer about 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms to store water from the Colorado River and then pump out a combination of stored and natural water at a volume of 50,000 acre-feet each year — enough to meet the needs of about 400,000 people.
–The Press-Enterprise 

China’s water pollution doubles in new report
China’s government unveiled its most detailed survey ever of the pollution plaguing the country, revealing that water pollution in 2007 was more than twice as severe as official figures that had long omitted agricultural waste. 

The first-ever national pollution census, environmentalists said, represented a small step forward for China in terms of transparency. But the results also raised serious questions about the shortcomings of China’s previous pollution data and suggested that even with limited progress in some areas, the country still had a long way to go to clean its waterways and air. 

The pollution census, scheduled to be repeated in 2020, took more than two years to complete. It involved 570,000 people, and included 1.1 billion pieces of data from nearly 6 million sources of pollution, including factories, farms, homes and pollution-treatment facilities, the government announced at a news conference.
–The New York Times

U.S. considers protection for coral
The Obama administration will consider federal protection for 82 coral species threatened by warming water temperatures.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said that it has found “substantial scientific or commercial information” that Caribbean and Indo-Pacific corals may be threatened or endangered.

 Environmentalists have predicted the corals — found near Florida, Hawaii and U.S. territories — could be wiped out by midcentury if the government does not take steps to protect them from warming waters, rising ocean acidity and pollution.

The announcement in the Federal Register launches a formal status review by federal biologists.
–The New York Times

 Rural-urban video conferences planned
As part of a cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, Minnesota Rural Partners Inc. is hosting a series of videoconferences through May 2010 to encourage conversations across the state about rural – urban connections that impact individual lives, communities, and work.  

 The goal is to foster increased innovation and job growth by leveraging the strengths of rural and urban areas.

The USDA’s Rural Development program aims to improve housing, create jobs and improve the lives of residents of rural communities. Minnesota Rural Partners is a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that works to strengthen rural-urban partnering, increase community entrepreneurship and support continued broadband deployment in rural communities. 

“We want to get Minnesotans talking and thinking about the interdependence between rural and urban areas, as well as future opportunities arising from stronger rural-urban connections,” said Jane Leonard, president of Minnesota Rural Partners. 

The videoconferences will culminate in a Symposium on Small Towns and Rural-Urban Gathering at the University of Minnesota, Morris, on June 9 and 10.  

Participants are asked to register for videoconferences in advance at Information on the video conferences is available there.

Conservation funding bills get attention

April 6, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Read it here, or go to

Minnesota legislators turn attention to water
What are the best ways to protect and clean up Minnesota waters – from its groundwater to its many lakes and rivers?

At the state Capitol, lawmakers are preparing their answers.

After weeks of often-lengthy hearings, they’re assembling legislation identifying how to spend one-third of the money to be raised over the next year by a voter-approved sales tax increase that begins in July.

It’ll also be the culmination of years of work.

For almost a decade, the state has been debating how to pay for a federally required water-cleanup effort, estimated to cost $80 million to $100 million a year over several decades. But it couldn’t agree on a way to pay for such a commitment until the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment was approved in November.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Pollution catches up with St. Croix River
The gradual but steady pollution of the popular St. Croix River means it’s no longer the sparkling algae-free gem it was four decades ago.

Already classified as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the St. Croix is expected to land on a national top 10 list of endangered rivers that will be announced by American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.

“We’re not happy with the news but getting some national attention in Minnesota and Wisconsin is good,” said Dan McGuiness, interim executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “We’re hoping that this information will help us bring more attention to the river.”
–The Star Tribune

Are some chemicals more dangerous at low doses?
There are some 82,000 chemicals used commercially in the U.S., but only a fraction have been tested to make sure they’re safe and just five are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to congressional investigators. But a government scientist says there’s no guarantee testing actually rules out health risks anyway.

The basic premise of safety testing for chemicals is that anything can kill you in high enough doses (even too much water too fast can be lethal). The goal is to find safe levels that cause no harm. But new research suggests that some chemicals may be more dangerous than previously believed at low levels when acting in concert with other chemicals.

“Some chemicals may act in an additive fashion,” Linda Birnbaum said at a conference held at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University. “When we look one compound at a time, we may miss the boat.”
–Scientific American

EPA posts mug shots of most-wanted fugitives
Albania Deleon started a business eight years ago to instruct and certify workers in the safe removal of asbestos. It was a growth industry, and pretty soon her company, Environmental Compliance Training in Methuen, Mass., was the largest in the state.

Some might say Ms. Deleon, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is a naturalized citizen, was living the American dream.

But not the Environmental Protection Agency, which added her to its list of “E.P.A. Fugitives,” people who have been charged with violating environmental laws or regulations.
–The New York Times

Will conservation fervor dry up?
Two years ago, while metro Atlanta’s drought burned through the record book, Karin Guzy of east Cobb turned off her in-ground sprinkler system.

It hasn’t been on since.

Instead, she waters her garden from two 250-gallon water cisterns. The large buckets easily fill from light rain collected off her roof.

Guzy doesn’t plan to go back to using drinking-caliber water on her 2-acre garden. Not even with the declaration by the state climatologist that metro Atlanta is finally out of the three-year drought.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Court backs cost-benefit analysis in water case
In a defeat for environmental groups, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency may use cost-benefit calculations to decide whether to require power plants to make changes that could prevent the destruction of billions of aquatic organisms each year.

The decision affects more than 500 power plants that are collectively responsible for more than half of the nation’s electricity-generating capacity. The plants use more than 200 billion gallons of water from nearby waterways each day for cooling, and they kill vast numbers of fish, shellfish and other organisms in the process, squashing them against intake screens or sucking them into cooling systems.
–The New York Times

Minneapolis tap water turns smelly
The municipal water in Minneapolis again is wrinkling noses with a telltale odor and taste.

A mustiness is being detected from tap water, and city Water Plant Operations Superintendent Chris Catlin is chalking it up to “some seasonal taste and odor issues” that tend to come around this time of year.

Catlin said to expect the sensory disruption to last another six weeks, emphasizing that there are no health problems. “Our water continues to meet all federal and state standards,” he said.
–Star Tribune

Recession cuts into Everglades purchase
The Everglades have become yet another victim of the shrinking economy.

Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Florida would significantly scale back its $1.34 billion deal to restore the Everglades by buying 180,000 acres from the United States Sugar Corporation.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Mr. Crist outlined a far more modest proposal: $530 million for 72,500 acres, with an option to buy the rest by 2019.
–The New York Times

California looks into its climatic future
As California warms in coming decades, farmers will have less water, the state could lose more than a million acres of cropland and forest fire rates will soar, according to a broad-ranging state report.

The document, which officials called the “the ultimate picture to date” of global warming’s likely effect on California, consists of 37 research papers that examine an array of issues including water supply, air pollution and property losses.

Without actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions, “severe and costly climate impacts are possible and likely across California,” warned state environmental protection secretary Linda Adams.

The draft Climate Action Team Report, an update of a 2006 assessment, concludes that some climate change effects could be more serious than previously thought.
–The Los Angeles Times

Iowa State to study nutrient flow to Gulf
Iowa State University researchers will receive $600,000 in federal grants to help them reduce the water pollutants that flow from Iowa to the oxygen-depleted zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

The watersheds of Raccoon River, Walnut Creek and Boone River will be studied. The grant money comes out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s national Targeted Watersheds Grant Program.

“EPA is committed to protecting our nation’s watersheds,” acting Regional Administrator William Rice said in a statement. “The three watersheds identified by Iowa State University helps focus the agencies’ efforts to improve water quality, which will result in a reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Gulf of Mexico.”
–The Des Moines Register

Sweeping wilderness bill signed
President Obama signed a sweeping land conservation package into law, protecting more than 2 million acres as wilderness and creating a national system to conserve land held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The measure, a collection of 170 bills that represents the most significant wilderness effort in at least 15 years, would provide the highest level of federal protection to areas such as Oregon’s Mount Hood and part of Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, along with sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia. It also authorizes the first coordinated federal research program to investigate ocean acidification and allows additional funding to protect ecologically valuable coastal areas and estuaries.

The law also establishes the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System, which aims to protect the most environmentally and historically significant lands controlled by the BLM. The new system, which encompasses 850 sites, including the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona and Nevada’s Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, requires the agency to make conservation a priority when managing these areas.
–The Washington Post

Group plans Straight River clean-up
As a kid, Ryan Kubat spent a lot of time on the Straight River. As a father, he often takes his son canoeing down the river or on other river-related outings. But over the years he has noticed the river getting darker and darker.

“The Straight River is really a treasure for Steele County,” Kubat said. “There’s a lot of garbage in the river; there’s a lot of garbage on the banks and the places around the river we need to clean out of there.”

This year, he and other members of the Cannon River Watershed are hoping an organized clean-up effort can help clear up some of the trash not only in the Straight River but all along the Cannon River Watershed.
–Owatonna People’s Press

Iowa bill would limit manure regulation
Community and environmental activists criticized a measure working its way through the Legislature that they claim would undercut efforts to protect Iowa’s rivers and streams.

They said a measure approved 43-6 in the Senate would stop state environmental officials from crafting regulations that restrict the application of manure to frozen ground.

“The Senate’s action is a travesty,” said Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “It’s a slap in the face to all Iowans who care about clean water and a decent quality of life.”
–The Associated Press

New Mexico asserts control over deep ground water
Starting March 30, anyone trying to lay claim to water in New Mexico that deeper than 2,500 feet below the surface will come under state regulation.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill into law that gives the state authority to divvy up rights for water 2,500 feet below the surface and deeper. The state already has purview over ground water and H2O just below the ground surface.

Because of a quirk of state law, however, this deep groundwater has not fallen under the purview of state authority as has groundwater and water in rivers and lakes.

But population growth has caused some growing cities, such as Rio Rancho, to start searching for other sources of water beyond importing H2O in or relying on surface water. And that has led them to look deep below the surface to these aquifers for sources of H2O. Sandoval County, where Rio Rancho is located, has even partnered with a corporation to begin plans for a desalination plant to make the salty, mineral-laden water usable.
–The New Mexico Independent

Maryland bill would mandate septic changes
Moving to correct a major water pollution problem in some portions of the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Senate agreed to require nitrogen-removing  technology on all new or replacement household septic systems near the shoreline.

Under the bill, which was narrowly approved, the state would cover the extra cost of replacing a failing septic system with an enhanced one capable of removing nitrogen from household wastewater. But homebuyers would have to bear the added cost of about $5,600 for an enhanced system when building a house along the shore.

The measure now goes to the House of Delegates, where its future is uncertain.
–The Baltimore Sun

Lake Superior water level up from 2008
Lake Superior’s
water level dropped an inch in March, or slightly more than its usual drop for the month. The International Lake Superior Board of Control says the lake generally drops about half an inch in March. The levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron rose two inches this month, which is their typical increase. Both lakes are nine inches below their long-term average but a foot higher than they were a year ago.

Water levels usually fall from September to March and begin to rise in April.

Lake Superior neared record low levels in 2007 but it’s been edging back to normal. Its level is six inches below its long-term average for April 1, but still five inches above the level at this time last year.
–The Associated Press