Posts Tagged ‘University of Minnesota’

Infested lake waters, trash burners and lawn-mowing goats

June 1, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

Lake Winnibigoshish now designated “infested water”
Anglers and boaters must adhere to stricter rules on Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River because the lake has been designated “infested waters” under state regulations.

The infested-waters designation was made May 7 because of an exotic species, the faucet snail, first found on the lake in 2007. The snail is a host for a trematode that has caused the die-off of hundreds of scaup and coots on Lake Winnibigoshish during the past two falls’ waterfowl migrations.

Winnie’s designation as an infested water will have broad implications.

“I think it’s a real big deal,” said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. “It’s important we get the word out to folks so they comply with the laws that are intended to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species to other waters.”
-Duluth News Tribune

UM students work on clean water to India
A team of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students from a civil engineering class are in India to share their ideas and plans for helping bring clean water to thousands of residents living in the slums of Mumbai — the same impoverished area that provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The University of Minnesota students, who collaborated with students from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, are winners of the first-ever Acara Challenge sponsored by the Minnesota-based Acara Institute, a non-profit institute that tackles global problems through sustainable business solutions.
–UM News Service

Environmental fund closes down
John Hunting, an heir to the Steelcase office furniture fortune, always knew that his foundation, the Beldon Fund, would have a limited life span.

“I felt as an environmentalist that it was imperative to spend the money now, because it would be silly to wait for the future if there wasn’t going to be a future,” Mr. Hunting said in an interview the other day. “And I also felt that if I died and there was a board running things, the money might start going to causes I wasn’t interested in funding.”

On Friday, the Beldon Fund closed its doors, having spent about $120 million over a decade strengthening environmental organizations in five states — Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin — and increasing awareness of the impact that environmental degradation has on human health.
–The New York Times

Downtown Minneapolis Trash Burn to Increase 20 Percent
Just in time for the return of outdoor baseball to Minnesota, the downtown garbage burner is planning to expand next door to the new ballpark.

A proposal making its way through Minneapolis City Hall would allow the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center to burn as much as 20 percent more trash — about 200 tons more per day — the first expansion since the burner was built in 1989. The change would occur next summer when the Minnesota Twins would be playing their first season at Target Field.

Opposition so far is limited to environmental activist Leslie Davis, who unsuccessfully sued to block construction of the stadium until the environmental impact of its location was studied. Twins and ballpark officials support the burner plans.
-Star Tribune

Minnesota to receive $107 million for Clean Water Fund
Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that Minnesota will receive more than $107 million in funding for the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The money will also come, in part, from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds will help jumpstart the economy and create jobs, while improving water quality.

“I believe the first responsibility of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, and making sure people have clean water to drink is an important part of that,” said Klobuchar.
–KSTP TV

Funding granted for shoreline stabilization project
A grant received by the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (EOTSWCD) will go toward shoreline stabilization projects.

The funding was granted by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to pay for services provided by a Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC) crew. The funding was available through the Clean Water Legacy program to assist with projects that help protect and restore water quality.
–The Fergus Falls Daily Journal

Well water could cause health problems in children
Private well water should be tested yearly, and in some cases more often, according to new guidance offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The recommendations call for annual well testing, especially for nitrate and microorganisms such as coliform bacteria, which can indicate that sewage has contaminated the well. The recommendations point out circumstances when additional testing should occur, including testing when there is a new infant in the house or if the well is subjected to structural damage.
–Science Daily

Shoreview tests permeable paving
Shoreview is betting on a new “green” concrete paving method that lets rainwater pass right through the street surface to prevent damaging runoff.

Pervious concrete — made of gravel and cement minus the sand that gives regular concrete its impenetrable density — has the porous quality of a Rice Krispies bar.

Because it will allow water to drain straight to the ground below, Shoreview will install about a mile of pervious concrete streets without storm sewers in the Woodbridge neighborhood on Lake Owasso.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin volunteers document life in holding ponds
Jody Barbeau wades into a shallow pond in woods less than a mile from shoppers at Mayfair Mall and commuters on congested U.S. Highway 45 – to glimpse a bustling community of other creatures.

Two mallard ducks cautiously paddle away from Barbeau, but there is no indication of aquatic life until he lifts a net out of the water.

Reddish dots on the fabric are water mites, he said.

A nearly transparent crustacean with a bulbous head is a male fairy shrimp, a relative of the lobster, said Barbeau, a biologist and volunteer pond monitor. They float belly up.

An explosion of fairy shrimp in late April and early May clogged the
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Maryland goats invasives to save turtles
A herd of goats coming to the rescue of a handful of imperiled turtles may sound like the plot of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon show, but that’s just what’s happening in the Carroll County town of Hampstead.

The State Highway Administration has enlisted the help of about 40 goats to devour invasive plant species in wetlands along the path of the soon-to-open, 4.4-mile Hampstead Bypass to protect the habitat of the bog turtle – a species listed as threatened in Maryland.

State highway officials decided to give the goats a tryout as four-legged lawn mowers rather than to attack the unwanted vegetation with mechanical mowers that might have killed the diminutive reptiles or damaged their boggy habitat on the fringe of Hampstead. The goats – leased from a local farmer who prefers to remain anonymous – have been on the job for a week, and highway officials say that so far they seem to be up to the task.
–The Baltimore Sun

Research: Environmental estrogens impact male rats
A five-generation rat study provides the clearest evidence to date that exposure to low levels of environmental estrogens can increase the risk of abnormal cell growth in the male breast.  Abnormalities which could have the potential to become cancerous developed in the mammary gland tissue of male rats that were exposed to either the soy-based phytoestrogen genistein or ethinyl estradiol – an estrogen used in birth control pills. The findings support a growing concern that exposure to low levels of estrogen in the environment might increase the risk of breast cancer.
–Environmental Health News

Legislation limits DNR oversight of Mississippi
Cities and homeowners who feared new rules would reduce their control over property and development are welcoming changes made in the critical-river-area measure signed by the governor.

Legislators said the bill, included in the Legacy Amendment law, was modified to protect homeowners and cities along a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton.

The measure allocated $500,000 over two years for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise rules for new development along the corridor. The DNR is to begin developing rules in January.
–The Star Tribune

Australian desalination plant under way
Sydney’s controversial desalination plant is almost 80 per cent complete and will start pumping drinking water this summer, the New South Wales  government says.

NSW Water Minister Phillip Costa says the plant, at Kurnell is Sydney’s south, will be able to provide 15 per cent of the city’s water within five years.

“It’s well and truly advanced, 70 to 80 per cent complete. Commissioning will occur by the end of the year,” he told a Sydney conference on NSW’s urban water sustainability. “We’re looking at water coming online in the summer 09-10. Once operational the plant will be capable of producing 250 million litres of water a day.”
–theage.com.au

Northeastern U.S. could face rising seas
In the debate over global warming, one thing is clear: as the planet gets warmer, sea levels will rise. But how much, where and how soon? Those questions are notoriously hard to answer.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colo., are now adding to the complexity with a new prediction. If the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets continues to accelerate, they say, sea levels will rise even more in the northeastern United States and Maritime Canada than in other areas around the world.
–The New York Times

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Sensors speed water quality research

May 26, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

UM studies remote sensors for water quality
Measuring water quality in lakes and streams traditionally starts with a time-consuming trip with a bucket to get a water sample for the laboratory.

Now University of Minnesota water researchers have found a way to skip that step.

In an ongoing study of urban creeks and watersheds that is focusing this summer on Lake Pamela in Edina, the university is taking thousands of water-quality readings a day using underwater sensors that relay the data by cell phone to the U’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

The study promises to “move environmental monitoring to the next level and improve our understanding and management of water resources,” said Deb Swackhamer, co-director of the university’s Water Resources Center.
–The Star Tribune

N. Mankato says ‘no’ to paying for aquifer study
North Mankato is the lone holdout in a Department of Natural Resources plan to have the seven largest users of an area aquifer split the costs of a study to see if it’s being depleted.

The study’s cost was about $20,000 in 2008, and it may rise.

“The costs are a little unpredictable,” said Shannon Fisher, who is a mediator for the project on behalf of the Minnesota River Board and the aquifer’s users.

The open-ended price of the study is one of the reasons North Mankato chose not to sign the agreement, City Administrator Wendell Sande said.
–The Mankato Free Press

Wireless sensors save water on golf courses
In seven years of overseeing every root and blade of grass on the grounds at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Matt Shaffer has built a reputation on innovation and conservation. An early advocate of course playability over aesthetics, he long lived by the maxim “the drier, the better.”

But when a stifling heat wave threatened the club’s greens before the 2005 United States Amateur Championship — a record 17th U.S.G.A. championship at Merion — Shaffer turned to his old boss, Paul R. Latshaw Sr., for advice. Latshaw told him there was one way he could continue to cut down water use while keeping his turf dry and as fast as a microwave: sensors.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin utilities question water fee
A municipal water utilities lobbying group is raising concerns about new fees the governor is proposing to fund staff to oversee the implementation of the Great Lakes water compact.

A provision in Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed budget calls for the Department of Natural Resources to design new fees to impose on power companies, public water utilities and other major water users in the Great Lakes basin.

The intent is to create a fee structure that would raise the estimated $1 million needed annually to run the compact oversight and implementation program, said Eric Ebersberger, water section chief in the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground Water.

But a lobbying group for public utilities is urging the state Legislature to set the fees by statute so any increase would have to be subsequently approved by lawmakers.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Stimulus funds to rebuild Red Wing dam
The lock and dam on the Mississippi River near Red Wing, Minn., the site of more than 100 barge accidents because of the hazardous current, will undergo $70 million in safety improvements over the next two years under the nation’s economic stimulus program, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

It is one of the Corps’ largest projects under the program, although a long-standing conflict with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the lack of a fish passage threatens to block some of the work.

Critics led by the Wisconsin DNR also object to the Corps’ plans to cut down trees used by perching bald eagles and to embed concrete blocks along vast stretches of shore and bottom land on the Wisconsin side of the river.
–The Star Tribune

Chemical companies win groundwater case
After five months of trial in San Francisco Superior Court, a jury cleared a handful of chemical companies of nearly all the claims brought against them by the city of Modesto, Calif., in the latest phase of a decade-old groundwater pollution case.

The jury did award Modesto about $18.3 million in damages to cover cleanup costs, but that amount could be nullified by settlements the city has already reached with other defendants.

The jury also decided that the remaining defendants, including the Dow Chemical Co., did not act with malice when they manufactured and distributed chemicals, such as perchloroethylene, to dry cleaners in Modesto. That rules out punitive damages, which could have been much larger.
–law.com

Bottled water deposit bill challenged
A coalition of bottled water companies filed suit to block an expanded bottle deposit law scheduled to take effect next month, arguing that the law, which imposes a deposit fee on bottled water sold in New York State, is unconstitutional.

The coalition includes Nestle Waters North America, the International Bottled Water Association, and industry trade group, and Keeper Springs, a small bottler owned by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and environmental advocate.

The new law requires distributors to collect a 5-cent deposit per bottle of water, which can in turn be redeemed by consumers, provisions designed to encourage New Yorkers to recycle the billions of water bottles now thrown away each year. But companies that bottle water must affix a new universal product code label to bottles sold in New York.
–The New York Times

DNR begins campaign against invasives
Memorial Day weekend, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers joined forces with other law enforcement agencies to prevent the transportation of aquatic invasive species from the Brainerd, Lake Mille Lacs and Prior Lake areas.

The increasing zebra mussel populations at Lake Mille Lacs and Rice Lake near Brainerd, and the new zebra mussel infestation at Prior Lake in Scott County are a particular concern.

Minnesota’s water resources are threatened by numerous aquatic invasive species such as the zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and purple loosestrife. These species could be easily spread within the state if citizens, businesses and visitors don’t take the necessary steps to contain them.

The DNR offered these suggestions:

Drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells before leaving any water access.

  • Remove aquatic plants from boats and trailers to prevent the spread of invasive species. The law requires it.
  • Drain all water from your boat when leaving waters that have been designated as infested with spiny water flea or zebra mussels.

The coordinated enforcement effort will include an increased presence at public water accesses, where officers will look closely for violators who could face fines of up to $500.
–Minnesota DNR news release

UM StreamLab mimics natural processes

April 3, 2009

(This article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. Read it here, or go to www.freshwater.org.)

This summer, there are going to be some big floods in Minneapolis.

The floods won’t inundate Hennepin Avenue, they won’t seep into the IDS Crystal Court or the Metrodome and they won’t displace residents of any of the city’s neighborhoods.

In fact, the floods won’t be real floods at all. They will be a carefully planned experiment in which torrents of water – each the equivalent of a once-in-50-years flood – will be sent rushing through the floodplain of the small artificial stream that is the heart of the University of Minnesota’s new Outdoor StreamLab.

The fake floods, nine-hour events intended to allow researchers to observe and precisely measure how engineered structures and vegetation such as sedges and rushes stabilize stream banks and prevent the loss of soil to high water, are an example of the controlled experiments the Outdoor StreamLab makes possible.

“What we have is an opportunity to change the stream, manipulate what’s entering the system, and see how it affects the water, sediment, and organisms within the stream,” said Anne Lightbody, a university research fellow who is director of the lab.

The $500,000 artificial stream cutting through an artificial flood plain has been used by researchers since last summer. It is across the Mississippi River from Downtown Minneapolis, a little way upstream from the Stone Arch Bridge. Water from the Mississippi is diverted into the stream through two 18-inch pipes.

Despite its relatively small size – 130 feet by 60 feet, about one-sixth the size of a football field – the StreamLab stream lab is, by far, the largest such facility in the United States. It is a dramatic improvement on the indoor flumes and basins that researchers long have used to model stream behavior in the university’s nearby St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

“Everything we do here is trying to build small-scale models of natural phenomena,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, the director of the St. Anthony Falls Lab. “The indoor lab is very useful and serves its purpose, but it has limitations.”
The outdoor lab is operated as a partnership between the St. Anthony Falls Lab and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, a multi-university consortium sponsored by the National Science Foundation and housed at the St. Anthony Falls Lab.

The stream in the Outdoor SteamLab is about 9 feet wide and about a foot deep in its quiet pools, a few inches deep where it flows over rocks and gravel. It allows experiments that mimic creeks and streams. Eventually, Sotiropoulos hopes, the partners will build a bigger, much longer, artificial stream adjacent to the current one that would allow researchers to conduct experiments more applicable to large rivers.

For now, though, the researchers using the Outdoor StreamLab are reveling in their ability to manipulate the flow and environment of the artificial stream for experiments.

Lightbody is leading research on the impact of sediment pollution on aquatic insects.
Last summer, researchers introduced about a ton each of sand, clay and top soil into the stream – an attempt to replicate the kind of sedimentation that would accompany an intense storm. Then they captured and counted the insect species floating in the water and clinging to rocks in the shallows, upstream and downstream of the sedimentation.

Another research project is attempting to measure the extent to which nitrogen, a common pollutant, is removed from stream water when water flows out of the stream, into the sub-surface water table and then back again into the stream.

Still another research project looked at the way sediment moved within the stream. The stream was constructed with a flat bottom, but over a short time that changed. To the delight of the researchers, the artificial flow created sand bars on the inside of bends and deep pools on the outside, the same behavior as a natural stream.

“The river is continually moving sediment, and the question of how much it is moving and where it is putting it is important in streams of all sizes,” Lightbody said.