Posts Tagged ‘sulfide mining’

Study: $$ penalties for water violations are rare

December 20, 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.

Study: 11 percent of water violations yield financial penalties
At old taconite waste pits near Hoyt Lakes, Cliffs Erie had 225 wastewater violations in a five-year period ending last year.

 Yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which oversees those discharge permits, didn’t fine the operation until earlier this year, when it issued a $58,000 penalty one day before a citizens’ lawsuit was to have been filed.

“I would say if we hadn’t sent out a notice-of-intent letter, action still wouldn’t have been taken,” said Marc Fink, the Duluth lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups.

Cliffs Erie isn’t the only Minnesota wastewater polluter who hasn’t been asked to dig too deeply into its pocketbook.

A recent Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy analysis of all wastewater permit violations reported to the agency from 2005 through 2009 shows two-thirds violated permits at least once. Yet only 11 percent of those violators paid a financial penalty.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chamber sues state over mining and wild rice
The state’s largest business group filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, raising the heat in an increasingly contentious fight over mining in northern Minnesota and what’s good for wild rice.

 The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which represents PolyMet Mining Corp. and other minerals companies, accused the agency of holding them to a different standard from other industries on how much sulfate they can discharge into Minnesota’s wild rice waters.

 High concentrations of sulfates are toxic to wild rice, and the debate about how much is too much has become a flashpoint in the broader environmental conflict over the proposed expansion of mining on the Iron Range.
–The Star Tribune

U.S. files civil suit in BP oil spill
The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the complaint does not specify the damages that the administration is seeking, the fines and penalties under the laws that are cited in the complaint could reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference.

 Mr. Holder said the department was “making progress” on a criminal investigation of the companies involved in the spill.
–The New York Times

 Report: La. sand berms stopped little of BP’s oil
A chain of sand berms built by the State of Louisiana to block and capture oil from BP’s runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico stopped a “minuscule” amount of oil and was largely a waste of money, the staff of the presidential commission investigating the spill said in a report.  

 The report, a draft, found that a decision by Thad W. Allen,  the retired Coast Guard admiral who led the spill response, to approve construction of the berms was made under “intense political pressure” from federal, state and local politicians and against the advice of an expert panel advising on the spill response.

 “The decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed,” the commission staff wrote.
–The New York Times

 New study offers some hope for polar bears
Sea-ice habitats essential to polar bears would likely respond positively should more curbs be placed on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new modeling study published in the journal, Nature. 

 The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, included university and other federal agency scientists. The research broke new ground in the “tipping point” debate in the scientific community by providing evidence that during this century there does not seem to be a tipping point at which sea-ice loss would become irreversible. 

 The report does not affect the decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008 to list the polar bear as a threatened species. 
–USGS News Release

3M retirees build solar water purifier 
Bob Nepper’s North St. Paul basement is littered with strange-looking tools, some of them hand-made on his metal lathe. His garage is filled with an assortment of devices he created to make household chores easier.

But inventing is more than just a hobby for Nepper. He and his friend Bill Stevenson of Lake Elmo have created a device that may help relieve the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

 The invention is a solar-powered water pasteurizer that can cheaply and easily clean water.

 Missionary groups from Indiana and South Dakota took a few of the pasteurizers to Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in January, but the devices were held up in customs and sat idle at a dock. Now a Florida missionary group has bought another of the pasteurizers and plans to take it to Haiti. 

Contaminated drinking water has been the main cause of the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,200 Haitians in the past few months.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Army Corps says it lacks $$ for Mississippi dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is likely to run short of funds as early as next spring to fully dredge one of the nation’s busiest waterways, potentially slowing the movement of key imports and exports and raising shipping costs.

 A loose coalition of shippers, state governments, port operators and farmers up and down the Mississippi River is pressing Congress to add tens of millions of dollars to the Corps’ budget for fiscal 2011. The money is needed, they say, to allow the agency to dredge the ports and channels around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., to a standard depth and width necessary for cargo ships to pass.

 The Mississippi River is a major transportation route for American businesses and farmers to send and receive goods, but its mouth requires constant dredging to remove the silt brought down the river and its tributaries.

 The fiscal 2011 budget calls for the Corps to receive $63 million for Lower Mississippi dredging, $6.3 more than it received in fiscal 2010. But actual costs of dredging total about $85 million annually on average, and topped $110 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Corps.
–The Wall Street Journal

 Dawson, Mn., meat processor to pay for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Noah’s Ark Processors LLC, have reached an agreement that resolves alleged violations of water quality laws and rules at its meat processing plant and animal hide storage building in Dawson. The company was given a $20,000 civil penalty and is required to complete a number of corrective actions.

 An inspection Aug. 25, 2009, documented blood-contaminated water and untreated manure discharging from the facility to the ground, and discharges of animal hide salting leachate discharging from the hide building. The company has stopped the discharges and worked to recover contamination, applied for permits, and submitted reports on recovery work and plans to prevent future discharges.

 Alleged violations include operating without appropriate industrial stormwater, wastewater and industrial by-product permits, failure to notify the agency of the discharges and provide requested information and lack of a stormwater pollution prevention plan.
–MPCA news release

 Study: Cancer rate not high in ‘Erin Brockovich’ town
A state survey has not found a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley, a high-desert community that has become the symbol of public fears about exposure to groundwater tainted with carcinogenic chromium 6.

 From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.

 The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.

 In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer,” Morgan said. “However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess.”

The findings come as some residents are pushing PG&E to purchase their properties, after tests showed that chromium-tainted groundwater was migrating toward them. That miles-long plume, the result of decades of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds, was at the center of a $333-million settlement over illnesses and cancers made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 Measuring groundwater by satellite
When you dive into that salad full of lettuce grown in the American West, there’s a good chance you are enjoying the product of irrigation from an underground water source. These hidden groundwater systems are precious resources that need careful management, but regulatory groups have a hard time monitoring them, owing to a lack of accurate data. 

Now, scientists at Stanford have found a way to cheaply and effectively monitor aquifer levels in agricultural regions using data from satellites that are already in orbit mapping the shape of Earth’s surface with millimeter precision.

 The amount of water in a groundwater system typically grows and shrinks seasonally. Rainfall and melted snow seep down into the system in the cooler months, and farmers pull water out to irrigate their crops in the warmer, drier months.

 In agricultural regions, groundwater regulators have to monitor aquifer levels carefully to avoid drought. They make do with direct measurements from wells drilled into the aquifers, but wells are generally few and far between compared to the vast size of most groundwater systems.
–Stanford University News

 River bypass for California delta wins support
Federal and state officials said they supported construction of a massive structure around California’s environmentally crippled delta to make deliveries of fresh water to farms and cities more reliable.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said such a structure would divert water from north of the delta, where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers meet, to water users in the Central Valley and in the southern part of California.

It would be accompanied by the restoration of “tens of thousands of acres of marshes and flood plains” in the delta to bolster populations of endangered and threatened fish, he said in a telephone news conference.

Farmers and cities in Southern California have been at loggerheads with environmentalists over how significantly water flows to the south should be restricted to help threatened species recover. The delta is the central switching yard where water from the Sacramento River is either sent south to agribusinesses and cities or to the west, where it supports diminishing stocks of native fish as it flows into San Francisco Bay.
–The New York Times 

 Feds promise to battle Asian carp
Federal officials promised a stepped-up fight to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by better tracking their movements, blocking potential migration pathways and killing any that manage to evade a network of new and improved barriers.

 A $47 million battle plan for 2011 calls for refining technologies that detect the presence of Asian carp by identifying their DNA in water samples, and for developing better means of trapping, netting or starving carp already in waterways that lead to the lakes. It also pledges to continue initiatives begun this year, such as researching ways to prevent the unwanted fish from breeding.

 “The Obama administration has taken an aggressive, unprecedented approach to protect our Great Lakes and the communities and economies that depend on them from the threat of Asian carp,” said John Goss, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s carp program director.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 New environment chair wants mining guarantees
The incoming Republican chair of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee says he will build on groundwork laid by his Democratic predecessor.

 Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he shares a results-oriented approach with former committee chair Jean Wagenius. He said he’s interesting in streamlining government, and the permitting process in particular.

“Are there things we can do … that speed it up so business knows what’s going to happen,” McNamara said. “I think that’s possible while protecting the environment.”

On the topic of mining, McNamara said copper-nickel mining can be done responsibly, but he wants substantial guarantees from mining companies that they’ll be around to clean up when the mining is done.
–Minnesota Public Radio

USDA offers funding for conservation projects
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is seeking proposals for projects that will bring partners together to help farmers, ranchers and private nonindustrial forest landowners implement beneficial water and land conservation practices.

“Farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land play pivotal roles in protecting and enhancing natural resources,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to support projects that will improve the health of the natural resources on their land and bring the environmental and economic benefits of conservation to their local communities.”

The requirements for submitting project proposals for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative can be viewed at www.regulations.gov. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers in approved project areas.
–USDA news release

 

Advertisements

Report: World’s rivers in crisis

October 4, 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.

Report: Water supply in doubt for 80% of world
The world’s rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

 The report, published in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world’s rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world’s human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.
–U.S. News & World Report

 Clean Water Council proposes $173 million for water
The Clean Water Council, which advises the Minnesota governor and Legislature on water policy, is seeking public comment on draft recommendations for spending $173 million over the next two years. That is up $21 million from the current budget cycle.

The recommendations propose broad categories of spending for the Clean Water Fund money the state will receive from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008. 

Under the recommendations: 

  • Thirty-nine percent of the money would be spend on protecting surface waters from diffuse pollution that comes from many sources and on restoring waters already damaged by that kind of pollution.
  •  Twenty percent would be spent on protecting and restoring waters damaged, or in danger of damage, from large single-source polluters, such as sewage treatment plants, industries and large feedlots.
  • Thirteen percent would be spent protecting and restoring watersheds, the land areas drained by surface waters.
  • Twelve percent would be spent on testing lakes and streams for pollution.
  • Eight percent each for drinking water protection and water research.

 The Clean Water Council comment period ends Oct. 14. To comment, contact Celine Lyman at celine.lyman@state.mn.us.

 It’s not just the economy, stupid.
Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently provided significant looks at Minnesota’s three major candidates for governor and their positions on major environmental issues. The issues include: alternative energy and nuclear power, sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota and agricultural pollution. To check out MPR reporter Stephanie Hemphill’s interviews, click here. To read Pioneer Press reporter Dennis Lien’s report, click here. 

EPA says Illinois soft on factory farms
Illinois is failing to crack down on water pollution from large confined-animal farms, the Obama administration announced in a stinging rebuke that gave the state a month to figure out how to fix its troubled permitting and enforcement programs. 

Responding to a petition from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its nearly yearlong investigation found widespread problems with the Illinois EPA’s oversight of confined-animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Many of the cattle, hog and chicken operations produce manure in amounts comparable to the waste generated by small towns. 

Federal investigators accused Illinois of failing to lock many farms into permits that limit water pollution. The state also has been slow to respond to citizen complaints or take formal enforcement action against big feedlots and dairies that violate federal and state environmental laws, the U.S. EPA said. 

As large “factory farms” have spread across the nation, they have prompted scores of complaints about manure odors and raised concerns about massive waste lagoons contaminating groundwater. The U.S. EPA’s 41-page report reflects President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to get tough with confined-animal operations, which steadily have replaced smaller family farms.
–ChicagoBreakingNews.com 

Fairmont ethanol plant to pay $285,000 penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Buffalo Lake Energy LLC has agreed to pay a $285,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Fairmont. 

The agreement covers violations that occurred since the facility began production in June 2008.  On numerous occasions the company’s operations violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits. 

The most significant source of the water quality violations was that the company built and operated a different wastewater treatment system than was permitted by the MPCA.  The system did not perform adequately to ensure that pollutants discharged from the facility met the permit’s effluent limits.  The facility discharged wastewater to Center Creek which violated its permitted limits for toxicity, a measure of potential harm to aquatic organisms.
–MPCA News Release 

EPA agrees to 30-delay in Florida rules
Federal environmental regulators have agreed to a one-month delay before forcing Florida to adopt controversial water pollution standards that critics contend could cost the state billions. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection had planned to impose the rules on Oct. 15, but agreed to push them back to review a gush of public comments, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. 

Nelson had written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging a postponement. 

In a news release, he said he supported tougher standards but was concerned by the potential costs and validity of the science. 

The proposed rules, which would place strict numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida lakes, rivers and streams, have been opposed by a coalition of water management agencies, utilities, industry, business and farming groups.
–The Miami Herald 

Toxic runoff found near BWCA
Pollution problems near the Boundary Waters are raising concerns about future Minnesota mining projects.

 Environmental groups have found high concentrations of metals leaching into streams and wetlands from two long-closed sources: one old test mine and one abandoned mine. The pollution runs off waste rock excavated decades ago and piled at the sites.

Alerted by a resident near Ely, Friends of the Boundary Waters collected samples of the seeping water at one of the sites this summer. 

An independent lab analysis confirmed that it contained arsenic, copper, nickel and iron at concentrations hundreds of times higher than state water quality standards allow for chronic exposure.
–The Star Tribune

MPG of U.S. cars barely budges in 25 years
As the U.S. seeks to reduce oil consumption, not all the news is bad: For years, automakers have been selling Americans cars with ever more efficient engines. In fact, a car purchased today is able to extract nearly twice as much power from a gallon of gas as its counterpart did 25 years ago.

The trouble is that over the same period, cars have become bigger and more powerful. As a result, the average mileage of the cars and light trucks on the road in the United States has barely budged since 1985.

“Automakers have been improving efficiency for years,” said John DeCicco, a University of Michigan senior lecturer who studies the issue. “But those gains haven’t gone into fuel economy. They’ve gone into giving consumers cars with greater size and muscle.”
–The Washington Post

China plans $62 billion water project
It might be the most ambitious construction project in China since the Great Wall.

The Chinese government is planning to reroute the nation’s water supply, bringing water from the flood plains of the south and the snowcapped mountains of the west to the parched capital of Beijing. First envisioned by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s and now coming to fruition, the South-North Water Diversion — as it is inelegantly known in English — has a price tag of more than $62 billion, twice as expensive as the famous Three Gorges Dam. It is expected to take decades to complete.

“This is on a par with the Great Wall, a project essential for the survival of China,” said Wang Shushan, who heads the project in Henan province, where much of the construction is now taking place. “It is a must-do project. We can’t afford to wait.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 New York plans novel sewer improvement
New York City wants to catch and store rainwater temporarily in new roof systems to stop heavy storms sending sewage spilling into city waterways. 

The catchment systems would consist of “blue” roofs that have a series of drainage pools and “green” or grass- or ivy-covered roofs, under a plan unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg estimates the city could save $2.4 billion over 20 years if the state allows it to use this kind of green technology instead of relying on so-called grey infrastructure, such as storage tanks and tunnels.
–Reuters 

Day of reckoning coming for Colorado River
A once-unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

 Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.

 For the first time, federal estimates issued in August indicate that Lake Mead, the heart of the lower Colorado basin’s water system — irrigating lettuce, onions and wheat in reclaimed corners of the Sonoran Desert, and lawns and golf courses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — could drop below a crucial demarcation line of 1,075 feet.

 If it does, that will set in motion a temporary distribution plan approved in 2007 by the seven states with claims to the river and by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be reduced.
–The New York Times

MPCA seeks comments on Medicine Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Medicine Lake in the city of Plymouth. The MPCA has identified the lake as an impaired water body because it contains excess phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to algae overgrowth and disruption of swimming, fishing and other forms of recreation.  Comments on the report are being accepted through Nov. 3, 2010.

 The MPCA found that about half of phosphorus pollution in Medicine Lake comes from stormwater. Phosphorus levels in stormwater rise when leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers are allowed to wash into storm sewers. In developed areas such as the land surrounding Medicine Lake, water flowing off paved surfaces diverts phosphorus-containing organic material directly into streams and lakes.

 The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, quantifies pollutant levels, identifies sources of pollution and proposes ways to bring water quality back to an acceptable level. The draft Medicine Lake TMDL report may be viewed on the MPCA web site. For more information or to submit comments, contact Brooke Asleson at Brooke.Asleson@state.mn.us or 651-757-2205.  Written questions and comments can be sent to Asleson at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release

San Diego sues neighbor over groundwater
San Diego city officials are challenging plans by the neighboring Sweetwater Authority to tap more groundwater over fears the project will deplete and degrade an important regional aquifer.

 The city has sued the Chula Vista-based water agency in Superior Court over access to groundwater — an increasingly valuable resource amid declining imports from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The two sides have been in “active settlement negotiations” for several months, said Michelle Ouellette, a partner at Best Best & Krieger, Sweetwater’s law firm. The agency provides water to 186,000 customers in National City, Bonita and Chula Vista.

 Sweetwater declined to file a legal response to the city’s lawsuit and agreed to settlement talks, Ouellette said. She said the California Environmental Quality Act “requires both sides to make good-faith efforts to settle the case.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Report: Ag research needs sustainability focus

July 6, 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.

Research Council urges focus on agricultural sustainability 
Government policies and agricultural research are too focused on increasing crop production and should be directed toward softening the impact of farming on the land and water, researchers say.

Farms have increased production by 158 percent over the past 60 years, but that has come with a cost to water quality and water supplies, and agriculture also is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “Our finding was that there is too much emphasis on productivity, mainly of industrial ingredients,” said one of the 15 members of the study panel, Cornelia Flora, a sociologist at Iowa State University who specializes in agricultural and rural issues.

The report said that most public agricultural research funding is targeted toward improving farm productivity and reducing costs. Just one-third goes toward other aspects of farming practices, such as the environmental impact. Federal and state research programs “should aggressively fund” studies of farming systems that making farming “robust and resilient over time,” the report said.

The researchers also said that federal farm subsidies encourage farmers to maximize yields and plant the same crops year after year and that more study is needed to determine what impact alternative policies could have on farming practices.
–The Des Moines Register

 Sulfide mining review under way again
Four months after an environmental analysis of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota was slammed by a federal agency, a revamped study is finally moving ahead.

Anxious environmentalists and many concerned residents hope this one turns out to be a lot more comprehensive.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we are really counting on it being a thorough analysis,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “It’s what Minnesota’s waters deserve.”

At issue is whether a type of mining proposed by PolyMet Mining, which has led to widespread pollution elsewhere, can be done safely near one of Minnesota’s most vulnerable areas — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast system of federally protected and interconnected lakes and rivers. 

Nearby, two other ambitious sulfide-mining proposals also are in the works, offering the prospect of more intensive activity near the wilderness border.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Arsenic in groundwater epidemic in Bangladesh
Hanufa Bibi stoops in a worn sari and mismatched flip-flops to work the hand pump on her backyard well. Spurts of clear water wash grains of rice from her hands, but she can never get them clean.

Thick black warts tattoo her palms and fingers, the result of drinking arsenic-laced well water for years. It’s a legacy that new research has linked to 1 in 5 deaths among those exposed in Bangladesh — an impoverished country where up to half of its 150 million people have guzzled tainted groundwater.

 The World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” as countless new wells continue to be dug here daily without testing the water for toxins.

 “The magnitude of the arsenic problem is 50 times worse than Chernobyl,” said Richard Wilson, president of the nonprofit Arsenic Foundation and a physics professor emeritus at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.
–The Associated Press

EPA proposes crackdown on nitrogen pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay, requiring Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states to do more to clean up the troubled estuary than previously thought necessary.

The pollution limits proposed by the EPA would force the six states and the District of Columbia to roughly double the pace at which they’ve been removing nitrogen, one of the two nutrients fouling the bay. Maryland, for instance, would have to curtail nitrogen by 15 percent over the next seven years — a regimen likely to require costly upgrades to sewage treatment plants, expensive retrofits of storm drains in urban and suburban areas, and major new curbs on runoff of fertilizer and chicken manure from Eastern Shore farms.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the draft pollution-reduction targets would not be easy for the states to achieve. But they represent federal scientists’ best estimates of what’s needed to restore fish-sustaining oxygen to the waters of North America’s largest estuary. Dead zones form every summer in the Chesapeake from algae blooms that are fed by sewage plants, farm and urban and suburban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun 

FDA inches toward regulating drugs fed to livestock
Federal food regulators took a tentative step toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.

 But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting.

 In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.

The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.
–The New York Times

Turn in a polluter – on line
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently launched its new online Complaint Tracker system. Citizens with environmental complaints can now fill out an online form available via the MPCA web site and click to send it directly to a MPCA inspector. 

 The MPCA receives about 1,000 environmental complaints from citizens each year. Complaints range from seeing a neighbor illegally dumping garbage to spotting a puzzling oily sheen on a lake. 

 “The MPCA relies on citizens to notify us of potential environmental problems, whether it’s someone dumping a mystery substance into a river or someone running a business without appropriate environmental safeguards and permits,” said Katie Koelfgen, supervisor, MPCA Air Quality Compliance and Enforcement Unit. “Speed and efficiency are important when it comes to protecting the environment. Once the MPCA knows about the problem and investigates, we’re able to take action quickly before further environmental damage is done. ” 

 While citizens can still rely on the phone to report a complaint, the new online system eliminates the need for messages, phone tag or repeated phone calls for more information. MPCA inspectors find the Complaint Tracker system to be user-friendly and efficient, allowing them to follow up on complaints more quickly. The phone numbers for complaints are 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA news release

DNR sampling well water in Benton County
Water samples from about 100 wells in Benton County are being collected and analyzed for general and trace chemistry during the next two months by hydrogeologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The data is being collected for the Benton County Geologic Atlas, a cooperative effort involving staff from the Minnesota Geological Survey, DNR Waters Division and Benton County. Samples are also being tested to learn how long the water has been underground.

 DNR Waters staff will be contacting Benton county residents to request permission for well sampling, which involves collecting a water sample and measuring the depth to water in each well. The selection of wells for sampling will be based on geology, location, well depth and well construction. Water sampled will come from wells drawing water from aquifers at varying depths. Owners of wells that are sampled will receive a report of the laboratory results for their well.
–DNR News Release

No federal permit required for U.P. mine
A member of Congress says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided that Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. doesn’t need a federal permit to build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, whose district includes the section of Marquette County where the mine would be located, announced the decision. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment with EPA’s regional office in Chicago. 

The federal permit was the last regulatory hurdle for Kennecott Eagle, which already has state permits to build and operate the mine.

 Opponents of the project contend the mine would pollute groundwater and rivers in the remote area near Lake Superior. Kennecott says it will protect the environment.
–The Associated Press 

Penn State climate scientist cleared of misconduct
An American scientist accused of manipulating research findings on climate science was cleared of that charge by his university, the latest in a string of reports to find little substance in the allegations known as Climategate.

 An investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University, weighing the question of whether the scientist, Michael E. Mann, had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities,” declared that he had not.

 Dr. Mann said he was gratified by the findings, the second report from Penn State to clear him. An earlier report had exonerated him of related charges that he suppressed or falsified data, destroyed e-mail and misused confidential information.
–The New York Times

Lake Pepin EDCs, aging sewers and invasive carp

November 23, 2009

Lawmakers question MPCA on Lake Pepin
A pair of Minnesota lawmakers expressed frustration with a developing plan to evaluate pollution problems in Lake Pepin, a widening of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The comments came at a joint meeting of House and Senate environment and natural resources committees.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is several years into an assessment of lake pollutants, a precursor to an effort to clean up the water body.

State Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, and state Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, questioned whether the agency’s current evaluation is too narrow, and doesn’t include such emerging issues as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that cause biological changes in fish and other creatures.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Aging U.S. sewer systems often pollute
It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.

 A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates. 

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.
–The New York Times (From the Times’ Toxic Waters series)

Invasive Asian carp may have reached Great Lakes
The decade-old battle to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes might be over.

 New research shows the fish likely have made it past the $9 million electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a source familiar with the situation told the Journal Sentinel.

 The barrier is considered the last chance to stop the super-sized fish that can upend entire ecosystems, and recent environmental DNA tests showed that the carp had advanced to within a mile of the barrier.

 That research backed the federal government into a desperate situation because the barrier must be turned off within a couple of weeks for regular maintenance. The plan is to spend some $1.5 million to temporarily poison the canal so the maintenance work can be done.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lake Vermillion park negotiations on hold
Already a long shot, Minnesota’s efforts to add another state park on the east side of Lake Vermilion could get squeezed even further when the state Legislature resumes in February. 

Talks between U.S. Steel Corp. and the state Department of Natural Resources have been on hold for months, with no detectable movement. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel is proceeding with plans to develop housing on the 3,000-acre site along the picturesque northeastern Minnesota lake. 

But any lingering hopes of a breakthrough are dampened by several developments. 

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said the agency and the company are “standing down” until after the agency completes an environmental review of U.S. Steel’s proposed Keetac mine expansion project near Keewatin, Minn. He said both sides consider that process a distraction and want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 South Florida puts sweeping limit on lawn watering
Recognizing the need to conserve water and increase protection for South Florida’s water resources, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has unanimously approved sweeping year-round water conservation measures that place permanent limits on landscape irrigation throughout the region. 

The rule limits irrigation of existing landscapes to two days per week, with some exceptions. 

The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule is designed to curb water use in South Florida, which is the highest in the state at an estimated 179 gallons per person per day. Outdoor irrigation uses up to half of all drinkable water produced within the region. Up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns is lost to evaporation and runoff with no benefit to the landscape, according to the district.
–Environment News Service

Wisconsin mine offers window on Minnesota dispute
A closed Wisconsin mine is playing a prominent role in the ongoing debate over mining for metals like copper and nickel, a debate that’s currently raging in Northern Minnesota. 

Depending on whom you talk to, the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, is either a perfect example how metals like copper can be mined without harming the environment, or it’s a sad example of regulators ignoring serious problems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Huge S.D. dairy cited for manure
A gigantic dairy operation near Minnesota’s western border is violating manure storage law and suspected of allowing pollutants to enter public waterways.

South Dakota’s largest dairy, Veblen East, and its neighbor Veblen West have been operating since the summer with too much manure in their huge lagoons, or ponds. Permits require that the ponds have at least two feet of space at the top so that manure won’t overflow when it’s windy or rainy.
–The Star Tribune

Nevada solar project abandons groundwater plan
A solar developer caught in the crossfire of the West’s water wars is waving the white flag.

Solar Millenium, a German developer, had proposed using as much as 1.3 billion gallons of water a year to cool a massive solar-power plant complex it wants to build in a desert valley 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

 That divided the residents of Amargosa Valley, some of whom feared the solar farm would suck dry their aquifer. Others worried about the impact of the $3 billion project on the endangered pupfish, a tiny blue-gray fish that survives only in a few aquamarine desert pools fed by the valley’s aquifer.

Now Solar Millennium says it will instead dry-cool the twin solar farms, which would result in a 90 percent drop in water consumption.
–The New York Times

 EPA must set Florida water pollution limits
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must come forward with a set of numeric limits on freshwater pollution by Oct. 15, 2010, under a consent decree approved by a federal judge in Tallahassee. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled from the bench that a Jan. 14 consent decree penned between the EPA and environmental groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation was both reasonable and valid. 

The ruling, which was made after nearly three hours of testimony, was a defeat for a coalition of critics including agricultural interests, power companies, fertilizer manufacturers, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services.
–The Orlando Sentinel 

The mystery of  Bangladesh’s arsenic-tainted water
It was a twisted cycle: In the 1970s, Bangladeshis used surface ponds or rivers to collect rainwater for drinking. But thanks to garbage dumping and sewage, that water became a breeding ground for disease. So UNICEF sought to fix the problem—the agency helped residents drill simple wells that drew water from a shallow aquifer. But this remedy became a tragedy. Bangladesh’s groundwater was laced with arsenic. Now, in a study in Nature Geoscience, a team from MIT has answered one of the outstanding pieces of the Bangladesh puzzle: Just how all that arsenic got into the water in the first place. 

Bangladesh occupies the flood-prone delta of the river Ganges [New Scientist], and that river brought the arsenic to the region’s sediments. But why doesn’t it just stay in the sediments once it’s there? Back in 2002, another MIT team began to answer the question by showing that microbes digest organic carbon in the soil in such a way that frees up the arsenic, but they couldn’t say where that carbon itself came from until Rebecca Neumann and colleagues figured it out this year: man-made ponds left behind by excavations.
–Discover Magazine 

 

EPA funds study of storing CO2 in aquifers
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded an $897,225 grant to the University of Illinois for a three-year research project to find out the environmental impact of injecting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from a source such as a coal-fired electric generating power plant into Illinois’ deep underground water reservoirs for long-term storage. 

Researchers will use field work and modeling to determine the effects of CO2 sequestration on ground water aquifers.  The plan is to see whether CO2 injection could cause changes in reservoir pressure and possibly result in salt water migrating from deeper ground water and contaminating fresh water near the surface. 

Although underground injection of CO2 for such things as enhanced oil and gas recovery is a long-standing practice, CO2 injection specifically for geologic sequestration involves different technical issues and potentially larger volumes of CO2 than in the past.
–EPA News Release

 Health Dept. studies new threats to water
Using money from the sales tax increase approved by voters last year, the Minnesota Department of Health has begun a new Drinking Water Emerging Contaminants project. The Legislature last spring appropriated $1.3 million over two years for the project. 

Health Department staff will evaluate chemicals that are potential threats to drinking water, but do not have health-based guidance values. These chemicals may include substances that have not yet been detected in groundwater, but are present in surface water or soil and have the potential to contaminate drinking water. Evaluations may also be done for chemicals that have recently been found to be more toxic than previously known. 

The department has created a web page to describe the program.
 –Minnesota Health Department

 What to do about endocrine disruptors
Nearly a year ago, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum was named director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. She sat down with Environmental Health News journalist Jane Kay in San Francisco to answer questions about the environmental health risks we face today.

As head of the federal institute examining environmental health, Birnbaum and her staff are taking on many controversial topics, including Bisphenol A and new flame retardants in consumer products. She talks about those issues and explains how scientists are trying to figure out what role chemicals and contaminants may play in breast cancer and other diseases and disorders.
–Scientific American

 California water bond laden with pork
Lawmakers want voters to borrow $11 billion next year to keep California supplied with clean water, but more than $1 billion of the money is earmarked for projects that have little or nothing to do with quenching the state’s thirst.

The bond proposal includes funding for bike paths, museums, visitor centers, tree planting, economic development and the purchase of property from land speculators and oil companies — all in the districts of lawmakers whose key votes helped it pass the Legislature.
–The Los Angeles Times

Water use down; ethanol plants penalized

November 2, 2009

U.S. water use is declining, according to a new report. After a long delay, the EPA orders tests on suspected endocrine disruptors.  Two Minnesota ethanol plants will pay penalties for pollution. And states are paying little heed to predictions of rising sea levels. Scan a digest of these articles and more, then follow the links to read the articles where they originally were published. 

U.S. water use declines, USGS says
The United States is using less water than during the peak years of 1975 and 1980, according to water use estimates for 2005. Despite a 30 percent population increase during the past 25 years, overall water use has remained fairly stable according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle announced the report, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005, as part of her keynote speech today at the Atlantic Water Summit in the National Press Club.

The report shows that in 2005 Americans used 410 billion gallons per day, slightly less than in 2000. The declines are attributed to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants. Water withdrawals for public supply have increased steadily since 1950–when USGS began the series of five-year trend reports–along with the population that depends on these supplies.

“The importance of this type of data to the American public cannot be exaggerated,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “The Department of the Interior provides the nation with the best source of information about national and regional trends in water withdrawals. This information is invaluable in ensuring future water supplies and finding new technologies and efficiencies to conserve water.”

Nearly half (49 percent) of the 410 billion gallons per day used by Americans was for producing electricity at thermoelectric power plants. Irrigation accounted for 31 percent and public supply 11 percent of the total. The remaining 9 percent of the water was for self-supplied industrial, livestock, aquaculture, mining and rural domestic uses.
–U.S. Department of the Interior news release

 $475 million approved to restore Great Lakes
Congress approved President Barack Obama’s plan to spend $475 million next year on programs to restore the Great Lakes, the first installment in what is expected to be a multiyear restoration plan.

 Obama hatched a plan during the campaign to spend $5 billion on the lakes over the next 10 years, and the idea has won wide support with conservationists, industry and both political parties.

 “This is a great day for the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their jobs and way of life,” Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a statement.

 The new funding will essentially double the amount of federal dollars now flowing into the lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Chisago County power plant draws water worries
At first blush, a proposal for a large power plant in rural Chisago County would seem to have a lot going for it, including apparent need and general support from clean-energy interests.

 But that doesn’t mean LS Power’s natural gas-fired project is racing along. Far from it. Many county residents, skeptical of the company’s assertions and irked by what they consider a secretive approach, don’t like it one bit.

 “Whether they are for it or against it, people in this area have a right to know what this is about,” said Joyce Marienfeld, a member of an opposition group called Friends of the Sunrise River. “This has been real slippery — just not right.” 

County residents have been on edge since earlier this year when the East Coast power plant builder offered what residents viewed as a vague proposal to build a 780-megawatt power plant on a 40-acre site northwest of Lindstrom, 30 miles north of St. Paul. The plant, expected to cost $300 million to $500 million, would use low-polluting natural gas to supplement the state’s growing wind industry by operating when wind power isn’t available or during periods of peak demand. 

The Legislature quickly approved tax breaks similar to those given to other plants, provided local governments follow suit. If that happens, the project would be free to seek various air and water permits and Public Utilities Commission approval. 

Critics soon objected, especially over plans to use 2 million gallons of groundwater a day and to discharge that water into the nearby Sunrise River, which empties into the nationally protected St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 After long delay, EPA orders endocrine tests
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first test orders for pesticide chemicals to be screened for their potential effects on the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by human and animal endocrine systems, which regulate growth, metabolism and reproduction.

“After years of delay, EPA is aggressively moving forward by ordering the testing of a number of pesticide chemicals for hormone effects,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. “These new data will be carefully evaluated to help identify potential hormone disruptor chemicals.”

On Oct. 21, EPA made available the battery of scientific assays and test guidelines for conducting the assays, as well as a schedule for issuing test orders to manufacturers for 67 chemicals during the next four months.

Testing, conducted through the agency’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, will eventually expand to cover all pesticide chemicals.

For more information about the screening program, go to: http://www.epa.gov/endo
–EPA news release

Federal study of bisphenol A planned
The National Institutes of Health will devote $30 million to study the safety of bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-like chemical used in many plastics, including sippy cups and the linings of metal cans.

Almost half of that money comes from the economic stimulus bill, says Robin Mackar, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Although a growing number of scientists and consumers are concerned about BPA — which has been detected in the urine of more than 90% of Americans — government agencies have been divided about whether it poses a threat.

According to the NIEHS, animals studies link BPA with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancer and diabetes. New research will focus on low-dose exposures to BPA and effects on behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and various cancers. Researchers will also see if the effects of BPA exposure can be passed from parents to their children.
–USA Today

States disregard threat of rising sea levels
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida’s coast.

How have local and state governments responded? Build, baby, build.

A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.

 Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida’s lead — though to lesser degrees — eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
–The Miami Herald

Ethanol plant gets $150,000 penalty for water pollution
An ethanol producer in south-central Minnesota has been nicked for $150,000 for discharging polluted wastewater into a lake, violating the federal Clean Water Act.

In sentencing in federal court in St. Paul, Corn Plus of Winnebago, Minn., was fined $100,000 and ordered to make a $50,000 community service payment to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to benefit the Rice Creek Watershed. 

Judge Jeanne Graham also required Corn Plus to implement an environmental compliance plan and a code of conduct as well as retain a full-time environmental health and safety manager.
–The Star Tribune

Second ethanol plant agrees to air and water penalties
Bushmills Ethanol Inc. will pay a civil penalty totaling $425,000 for a variety of alleged violations at the company’s ethanol production facility in Atwater.  A portion of the penalty includes supplementary environmental projects, valued at $175,000, which will be completed by the company during the next four years.

 The violations, which occurred from 2006 to 2009, were discovered during Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff inspections of the facility and through review of operational records the company is required to submit to the MPCA under its environmental permits.

 Numerous violations were identified, including producing ethanol above the facility’s permitted limit, failure to inspect and maintain production and pollution-control equipment, recordkeeping and reporting violations, and exceeding permitted wastewater discharge limits.

 The company agreed to the penalty in mid-October.
–MPCA news release

 Judge blocks Las Vegas water pipeline
A Nevada judge’s sternly worded ruling blasting a water giveaway as “arbitrary” with “oppressive” consequences has tossed a huge roadblock in the way of a controversial pipeline opposed by Utah ranchers and farmers.

The ruling by Judge Norman Robinson of Nevada’s 7th Judicial District reverses water right applications granted by the state engineer to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for Cave, Delamar and Dry Lake valleys. 

Those valleys are in the same geographical region as Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah and Nevada border and are integral to the water authority’s plan to build a $3.5 billion, 285-mile pipeline to convey water to Las Vegas. 

The judge said the state engineer’s decision to grant those water rights “results in an oppressive consequence for the basins affected, with the state engineer simply hoping for the best … ,” adding that the engineer “abused his discretion” because there was no evidence cited over the availability of water for future use.
-The Deseret News

 Impact statement issued for copper-nickel mine
A proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine and processing plant on Minnesota’s Iron Range would increase sulfate levels in several northeastern rivers, a long-awaited environmental review concluded.

More than four years in the making, the draft environmental impact statement provides an overview of Polymet Mining’s proposed NorthMet mine and processing project, analyzes its possible effects and outlines how it would operate under federal and state rules.

 Polymet wants to operate the state’s first copper mine, but environmental groups have pushed back, noting widespread pollution at such mines elsewhere in the world. The company, however, contends safeguards built into the sulfide mining process would minimize or eliminate those problems.

 Company officials, backed by northern legislators, have long touted the $600 million project’s benefits to the economically depressed region, saying it would create about 400 jobs over 20 years. It also could lead the way for other such projects in the region.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Solar power has a powerful thirst
The West’s water wars are likely to intensify with Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement on Monday that it would buy 500 megawatts of electricity from two solar power plant projects to be built in the California desert.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project would consume an estimated 536 million gallons of water a year, while the Mojave Solar Project would pump 705 million gallons annually for power-plant cooling, according to applications filed with the California Energy Commission.

 With 35 big solar farm projects undergoing licensing or planned for arid regions of California alone, water is emerging as a contentious issue. 

The Genesis and Mojave projects will use solar trough technology that deploys long rows of parabolic mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. The steam must be condensed back into water and cooled for re-use.
–The New York Times