invasive species

Merriam warns of environmental retreat

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.

Gene Merriam criticizes retreat on the environment
Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam writes that lawmakers, both in the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress,  increasingly are retreating from leadership on the environment.  He warns that Minnesota is in danger of “joining other states in a race to the bottom – in the pollution we accept and in the scientific evidence we ignore.”

 Merriam’s column was published in Freshwater’s April Facets newsletter and re-printed on the Minnpost web site. Read it either place. 

The newsletter also has articles on Craig A. Cox’s prescription for “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production” and a q-and-a interview with Pamela Shubat, director of the Minnesota Health Department’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.  

freshwater party and fund-raiser set April 21 Support Freshwater; come to a party
The Freshwater Society will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser April 21 in Excelsior. 

The event is keyed to two signs of spring:  Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka and the frequent stop-overs of migrating loons on the lake.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.,  will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, a raffle and silent auction, and presentations on loons and ice-out on the lake. If you think you are up to it, join the loon-calling contest.

 Visit the Freshwater web site for information and registration

Open house on south metro Mississippi plan set
A public open house on a draft clean-up plan for the Mississippi River in the south metro area will be held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May  4.

The open house will be at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave., St. Paul.

 The open house is sponsored by the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi National River &  Recreation Area and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River in St. Paul to Red Wing, currently fails to meet basic health standards because of excess sediment in the water.

 People attending the open house attendees will learn about a Total Maximum Daily Load plan prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that spells out maximum levels of pollution that the river can accept and still offer a clean and healthy environment for humans, animals, fish and plants.

At the open house, there will be two presentations on the plan – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – and each will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of water quality and restoration experts.

 To learn more about the South Metro Mississippi Turbidity TMDL, visit the MPCA’s Mississippi River TMDL web page.  For more information about the open house, contact  Trevor Russell at 651-222-2193 x18 or Lark Weller at 651-290-3030 x304.

 Sigurd Olson lectures scheduled
Amy Vedder, a renowned gorilla researcher and conservationist, will deliver three public lectures – in St. Paul, Duluth and Ely – on April 19 and 20 in the 2011 Sigurd Olson Lecture Series. The series is sponsored by Vermilion Community College and the Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness.

 Vedder, the senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, is the author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas, which describes her effort to study and protect mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 The title of her lecture is “From Gorillas to Grizzlies: A Conservation Journey.” The lectures will be:

  •   At  3 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, in Room 203 of Green Hall on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
  • At noon on Wednesday, April 20, in the fourth-floor library rotunda at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
  • At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the auditorium of Vermilion Community College.

 $103 million Texas groundwater deal set
A West Texas tycoon who shopped valuable water across the state for more than a decade has settled for selling to his neighbor.

 Lubbock and 10 Panhandle cities have a purchase agreement for thousands of acres of water rights owned by famed corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, potentially solidifying the group as the state’s largest holder of groundwater rights and closing a combative and fascinating chapter in water marketing in Texas.

 The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority confirmed the purchase of water rights beneath 211,000 acres in seven counties north of Amarillo for $103 million, increasing its groundwater holdings by 80 percent and an estimated 4 trillion gallons. The sale is expected to close in July or August, based on a statement from the authority.
–The Lubbock  Avalanche-Journal

 Electric carp barrier activated  near Chicago
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it activated a new electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville designed to keep Asian carp from migrating to Lake Michigan. 

It was completed a year ahead of schedule, the corps said.

Because of the electric discharge, the corps warned boaters to use “extreme caution” while traveling between river mile markers 296.1 and 296.7. It is dangerous to enter the water or place hands or feet in the water for any reason, the agency said.

Last month, federal officials said that lab testing found the Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric dispersal barriers were effective for fish 5.4 inches or longer. 

Higher electric power levels might be needed to immobilize small Asian carp about 2 to 3 inches long, they said. The smaller fish are not believed to be close to the barriers, which are near Lockport.
–Chicagobreakingnews.com

 Chicago urges quick action on Asian carp
Chicago is leaning on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track an ongoing study to protect Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline – and the rest of the Great Lakes – from an Asian carp invasion.

 ”The proposed timeline for the study is too long,” Chicago environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna wrote to the Army Corps on March 25. “The threat of Asian carp has been known for more than a decade. It is not acceptable to wait another five years for solutions. We urge the Corps to speed up this timeline to every extent possible.”

 It is an ironic twist of history, considering that Chicago sparked the problem over 111 years ago when it obliterated the natural barrier between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan by constructing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

 The canal remains the linchpin in the Windy City’s giant plumbing system that flushes waste away from its Lake Michigan drinking water intake pipes, down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. The canal, which reversed the flow of the Chicago River so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it, was built to send about 6 billion gallons of Lake Michigan water per day into the Mississippi basin, though a Supreme Court ruling has capped that amount at about 2 billion gallons per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Can and bottle deposit bill proposed
When it comes to recycling bottles and cans, Minnesota pales in comparison with Iowa.

Here, 35 percent of them are recycled; the rest are lost or tossed. But south of the border, where a beverage container deposit law is in place, 86 percent, or 1.65 billion every year, are recycled.

 The reason for the difference?  ”The answer is the deposit,” said Minnesota Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.  ”People don’t throw away money.”

 Minnesota would adopt a similar approach under a bill she and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, plan to introduce. Their proposal would attach a 10-cent deposit on most bottles and cans containing beverages such as soft drinks and beer. Consumers would get their money back when they turn in the empty containers.

 By putting value on bottles and cans, people would be much more likely to return them, keeping them out of ditches or other parts of the waste stream, Hortman said.

And because there always would be fewer containers returned than bought, there would be unclaimed refunds that the state could use to offset budget problems, she said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin gov backs off on phosphorus rule repeal
Gov. Scott Walker has apparently backed off his plan to repeal a rule passed last year that sets limits in Wisconsin lakes and streams for phosphorus, a nutrient from fertilizers which causes weed and algae growth.

 Instead, Walker has proposed that the new rule not be put in place for two years, according to Cathy Stepp, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. Stepp testified on the proposal, and other conservation-related items in the budget, before the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

 Stepp said municipal officials and others affected by the rule told the agency that implementing the tougher statewide standard would be too expensive during this difficult economic period. Some communities estimated they would have to raise sewage treatment rates by as much as $900 per customer per year.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Minnesota DNR seeks tougher inspections for invasives
The Legislature is poised to give the Department of Natural Resources new authority to require boat inspections and decontamination to slow the spread of zebra mussels.

And that means Minnesotans could see some changes at boat landings this summer when they go out to visit their favorite lakes.

But there is disagreement about how effective these efforts could be.

 Zebra mussels hitchhike from lake to lake on boats and trailers. They can clog water intakes and boat motors, leave sharp shells on beaches, and, in high numbers, they can alter the food chain.

Minnesota now has 19 lakes and four rivers infested with zebra mussels — including Mille Lacs Lake, the state’s best-known walleye fishery, and popular Lake Minnetonka.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Climate change threatens extinctions
Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

 For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

The Berkeley scientists warn that their new study may actually grossly underestimate how many species could disappear. So far, humans have pushed species toward extinctions through means like hunting, overfishing and deforestation. Global warming, on the other hand, is only starting to make itself felt in l the natural world. Many scientists expect that as the planet’s temperature rises,  global warming could add even more devastation. “The current rate and magnitude of climate change are faster and more severe than many species have experienced in their evolutionary history,” said Anthony Barnosky, the lead author of the Nature study.
–The New York Times 

 Texas clean-air advocate wins $150,000 Goldman award
They call Port Arthur gasoline alley, cancer alley, and the armpit of Texas. For most of his life, Hilton Kelley has called it home.

 The city has had the same distinctive odor since he was a boy, Kelley said. Adults jokingly called it the smell of money, because the nearby oil refineries and petrochemical plants did most of the hiring. But after the cancer rate grew, the childhood asthma rate rose and the population plummeted, Kelley, now 50, stopped laughing.

 Kelley’s decade-long fight to lower the city’s air pollution earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for the North America category, being awarded Monday in San Francisco.

The annual prize and a $150,000 stipend is routinely awarded to six grass-roots environmentalists from different parts of the world. Since the award was established in 1990, a total of $13.2 million has been awarded to 139 recipients from 79 countries, as of 2010, according to a spokeswoman.
–The Washington Post

 Migrant’s genes transformed Isle Royale wolves
In Ontario, in the winter of 1997, a particularly virile male wolf stepped onto the ice of Lake Superior and headed toward Isle Royale, an island about 15 miles offshore. There he radically changed the genetic makeup of an isolated group of wolves that had lived there since the late 1940s.

 Researchers, who for many years have been observing the Isle Royale packs and the moose they feed on, did not realize at first that he was an immigrant, but soon his appearance and behavior became impossible to ignore.

He was larger than most of the Isle Royale wolves, and was so strongly territorial that he completely displaced one of the four packs, driving it to extinction within two years of his arrival. His own pack grew to 10 wolves, the largest seen on the island in almost 20 years. As he aged, his fur grew paler, almost white, a phenomenon known in other wolves but never before seen in the Isle Royale animals.
–The New York Times

 California board eyes groundwater clean-up
Farmers in California’s agricultural heartland, which also is home to some of America’s most contaminated aquifers, may soon have to start monitoring and cleaning up groundwater.

But the proposal being considered by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Rancho Cordova has generated frustration on all sides.

Farmers say the new regulations affecting 35,000 famers and 7 million acres of irrigated land are an expensive, bureaucratic burden. And environmental groups say the rules are not strong enough to protect drinking water from the threat of fertilizers and other agricultural runoff.

The new long-term rules would cover not only ground water but also surface water, which has been regulated on an interim basis since 2003.

University and local government studies have found that nitrate levels harmful to human health have increased dramatically in drinking water supplies in past decades. A report last month by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute concluded more than 1 million San Joaquin Valley residents—a third of the Valley’s population—are exposed to drinking water tainted with fertilizer and other toxins.
–The Associated Press

 Advocacy group releases report on carcinogen
U.S. water utilities have known about the prevalence of a likely carcinogen in water sources for seven years and have failed to share that information with the public, according to an advocacy group, which released a 2004 industry study of hexavalent chromium.

The American Water Works Association Research Foundation study focused on hexavalent chromium in groundwater sources nationwide. The AWWA report was obtained and released by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

The 124-page report features data from tests on 341 water samples from 189 water utilities in 41 states. About two-thirds of those samples came from groundwater sources, while another third came from surface sources. The report found hexavalent chromium nationwide, particularly in groundwater. The highest levels were found in California.

The study emphasizes that the “majority of the hexavalent chromium results were found to be less than” the current U.S. EPA Method Detection Limit. But it also concluded that conventional filtering systems used by water utilities in 2004 were typically ineffective in addressing hexavalent chromium.
–The New York Times

 Research: Invasive species could cost $1.4 trillion
The recent disasters in Japan may be driving increased resolve to plan for biological invasions of species, a crisis that can be as costly as natural disasters.

Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year of damage – 5 percent of the global economy – according to an article in this month’s “BioScience.”

The report by three biologists from McGill University in Montreal contends that biological invasions may be more damaging economically than natural disasters.

“Obviously, the disaster in Japan will bring to people’s attention the problem of rare extreme hazards,” said invasive species biologist Anthony Ricciardi, lead author of the report. “You never know when they are going to strike, or how costly they will be.”

Their proposal is simple: because biological invasions are similar to natural disasters, they require similar management strategies that are not currently in place in any nation. This includes safety codes and standards, emergency preparedness and rapid-response measures similar to those in place for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
–Medill Reports

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Dayton, DNR unveil invasives effort

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.

Dayton seeks fee increases for invasives fight
Saying zebra mussels, Asian carp, Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive species threaten Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, billion-dollar tourism industry and a way of life, Gov. Mark Dayton announced a legislative proposal to slow their spread.

 Catching boaters who transport invasive species to or from infested lakes is part of the plan, which would be paid for by raising the boat registration surcharge and nonresident fishing fees. But the proposal clashes with the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has vowed no tax increases or fee hikes.

 Still, Dayton and DFL legislators said it’s imperative that both parties agree to slow the spread of invasives before it’s too late.

 ”What we’re trying to protect is truly priceless,” Dayton said. “The clock is ticking. This is not a Republican, DFL or Independence Party problem, it’s a Minnesota problem. And once it’s too late, it’s too late.”
–The Star Tribune

U.N.’s World Water Day looks at urban water
Half of the world’s population now lives in cities, with 3 million urban arrivals every week. In the next two decades, nearly two-thirds of humanity will be living in cities, delegates at a three-day event held in Cape Town to mark World Water Day were told.

This year, WWD is focusing on the provision of water in urban areas.

Over a thousand representatives from more than 30 organisations gathered in South Africa to discuss the urban water challenges and opportunities facing the world today. It is hosted by South Africa, in collaboration with UN-Water, the African Ministers’ Council on Water (Amcow), the UN secretary general’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (Unsgab), the UN Environment Programme, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In Africa, where the rate of urbanisation is the world’s highest and urban populations are expected to double in the next 20 years, water services have been on the decline since 1990. Amcow highlighted the opportunities provided by the conference for African ministers, mayors, civil society organisations and representatives of development banks and the private sector to discuss how they can move faster and more effectively in closing this gap and achieving millennium development goals. The critical need for collaboration and communication between sectors, and the need for visionary leadership to manage the planet’s limited water resources were recurring themes.
–The Guardian 

 EPA probes chronic sewage spills in Chicago
Billed as an engineering marvel and national model, Chicago’s Deep Tunnel was designed to protect Lake Michigan from sewage overflows and put an end to the once-frequent practice of dumping human and industrial waste into local rivers.

But nearly four decades after taxpayers started paying for one of the nation’s most expensive public works projects, billions of gallons of bacteria-laden sewage and storm runoff still routinely pour into the Chicago River and suburban waterways during and after storms, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Lake Michigan, long considered the sewage outlet of last resort, has been hit harder during the past four years than it was in the previous two decades combined.

Between 2007 and 2010, records show, the agency in charge of Deep Tunnel dumped nearly 19 billion gallons of storm water teeming with disease-causing and fish-killing waste into the Great Lake, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Research: House cats a menace to birds
While public attention has focused on wind turbines as a menace to birds, a new study shows that a far greater threat may be posed by a more familiar antagonist: the pet house cat.

 A new study in The Journal of Ornithology on the mortality of baby gray catbirds in the Washington suburbs found that cats were the No. 1 killer in the area, by a large margin.

 Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths, according to the researchers, from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University in Maryland. Death rates were particularly high in neighborhoods with large cat populations.
–The New York Times

Phenology applies nature to science
People have tracked phenology for centuries and for the most practical reasons: it helped them know when to hunt and fish, when to plant and harvest crops, and when to navigate waterways. Now phenology is being used as a tool to assess climate change and its effects on both natural and modified ecosystems.

 How is the timing of events in plant and animal life cycles, like flowering or migration, responding to climate change? And how are those responses, in turn, affecting people and ecosystems?

 The USA National Phenology Network is working to answer these questions for science and society by promoting a broad understanding of plant and animal phenology and their relationship to environmental change. The network is a consortium of organizations and individuals that collect, share, and use phenology data, models, and related information to enable scientists, resource managers, and the public to adapt in response to changing climates and environments. In addition, the network encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and record phenology as a way to discover and explore the nature and pace of our dynamic world.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 Wisconsin Gov. Walker calls for rules rollback
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill proposal would roll back regulations designed to protect waterways from weed-producing phosphorus and other pollutants that wash from streets and construction sites.

The changes to water pollution rules – some of which were approved as recently as last summer – are coming under fire from environmentalists who say the existing regulations are needed to clean up lakes, rivers and streams.

Critics of Walker say his budget proposals also would unwittingly wipe out other pollution laws.

But the state Department of Natural Resources, which advanced the regulations under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, now says it needs to make changes to avoid heaping huge costs on municipalities and businesses.

 ”What we are trying to address are cities’ and companies’ concerns and still make sure we are addressing the phosphorus problem,” said Bruce Baker, administrator of the water division of the DNR.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Farmers urged to do more to clean Chesapeake Bay
A federal study assessing how much farmers are doing to clean up the Chesapeake Bay credits them with making progress in reducing their pollution but says the vast majority need to do more to help the troubled estuary.

Conservation practices adopted by farmers in Maryland and the other five states draining into the bay have cut erosion by more than half and curtailed runoff of fertilizer by 40 percent, according to the study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But 80 percent of the 4.6 million acres used to raise crops need additional measures, the report says, to keep fertilizer from washing off fields into nearby streams when it rains or soaking into ground water and ultimately reaching the bay.

The 158-page report comes as the Obama administration’s push to increase Chesapeake cleanup efforts comes under fire from farm groups and their supporters in the bay region and nationwide.
–The Baltimore Sun

Fix a leak. Save a trillion gallons.
Across the country, household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water per year – enough to supply the water needs of Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles combined. Easily corrected household leaks can increase homeowners’ water bills by 12 percent.

 ”When households have a leak, it’s not just a waste of water, it’s a waste of money,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “But by fixing leaky pipes, buying WaterSense products and taking other simple steps, families can save on their water bills and conserve clean water for future generations to enjoy.”

 Homeowners’ water bills provide an easy and quick leak-checking measure; if wintertime water use for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, their home may have a leak. Fixture replacement parts often pay for themselves quickly and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers, professional plumbers, or EPA’s WaterSense irrigation partners.
–EPA News Release

 Invasive lionfishes’ spread is unprecedented
The rapid spread of lionfishes along the U.S. eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean is the first documented case of a non-native marine fish establishing a self-sustaining population in the region, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey studies.

 “Nothing like this has been seen before in these waters,” said Dr. Pam Schofield, a biologist with the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center here.  “We’ve observed sightings of numerous non-native species, but the extent and speed with which lionfish have spread has been unprecedented; lionfishes pretty much blanketed the Caribbean in three short years.”

 More than 30 species of non-native marine fishes have been sighted off the coast of Florida alone, but until now none of these have demonstrated the ability to survive, reproduce, and spread successfully.

Although lionfishes originally came from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, there are now self-sustaining populations spreading along the western Atlantic coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.
–USGS News Release

 Conference on St. Croix set April 5
The 12th annual “Protecting the St. Croix Basin” conference will be held Tuesday, April 5, at the University Center in River Falls, Wis. The conference is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team.

This year’s conference features a celebration of the 100-year history of the St. Croix River Association.  The conference will also explore phosphorus reduction, which is necessary to bring cleaner water to Lake St. Croix, a 25-mile stretch of the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minn. and Prescott, Wis.  This year, the conference will feature a musical tribute, keynote speaker Tia Nelson and an art exhibition called “In a New Light.”

The conference is open to the public.  Advance registrations will be accepted through March 25.  See www.stcroixriverassociation.org  or call 715-635-7406 for information and registration.  The cost is $50, or $25 for students.
–MPCA News Release

Japan quake jolted Florida groundwater
The devastating earthquake that shook Japan caused a temporary jolt in groundwater levels throughout much of Florida, officials said.

 The South Florida Water Management District reports that a network of groundwater gauges registered a jump of up to three inches in the water table from Orlando to the Florida Keys about 34 minutes after the quake struck on March 11.

 The oscillations were observed for about two hours and then stabilized.

 ”We were not expecting to see any indication of the geological events in Japan given the island’s great distance from Florida,” Susan Sylvester, the water district’s director of operations control and hydro data management department, said.

 Shimon Wdowinski, an earthquake researcher with the University of Miami, said the water table likely rose because of Florida’s porous limestone, which allows water to easily flow beneath the earth’s surface and respond to changes in pressure caused by a wave.
–The Associated Press

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Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

Craig A. Cox from the Environmental Working Group

Craig A. Cox

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 where they originally were published.

‘Taking the pollution out of agriculural production’
Aricultural runoff – fertilizers and pesticides from cultivated fields, manure from pastures and feedlots, sediment washed away by erosion – pollutes many U.S. lakes and rivers. Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group will talk about the agricultural pollution problem and some strategies for reducing it in a free public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 24,  at the University of Minnesota.

Cox’s lecture, titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. It is part of the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.

The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited, and pre-registration is required.

 Cox has worked on land and water conservation for nearly 30 years for agencies that include the National  Academy of Sciences, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, he coordinates the organization’s research and advocacy on agriculture, renewable energy and climate change.

 Calling all phenologists and weather observers
Do you keep track of when the first butterfly arrives, when the oaks lose their leaves? Do you make a record of the weather around you every day? Do you just have fun observing nature?

  If your answer is yes, here is an invitation to join the second annual gathering of Minnesota Phenology and Weather Observers to learn, share your interests and play in the snow in the hills overlooking Lake Superior.

This Phenology and Weather Observers Gathering will take place on the weekend of March 4-6, 2011, at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center; Finland, Minn. 

Space is limited. First come, first serve. The cost of $130includes six meals and occupancy in rooms of up to six. For information and registration, go the Wolf Ridge web site. 

The Gathering is organized, taught and supported by Minnesota Phenology Network, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources, UMD Large Lakes Obeservatory,National Weather Service (Duluth office), Minnesota Climatology Working Group, USA National Phenology Network, Wolf Ridge ELC, Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Assn., John Latimer, Larry Weber, and a variety of dedicated individuals.

Enthusiasts, casual observers, professionals, teachers, researchers all have something to gain. Activities range from exploring nature’s happenings on snowshoes to learning how researchers utilize satellites to monitor changes in nature the size of a leaf. Presenters are very experienced: naturalists, professors, and professional researchers from highly regarded institutions. The new organization’s first meeting in 2010 was profiled in the Freshwater Society newsletter.

 Legislators want quick action on invasives
State lawmakers are urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to move faster in crafting new laws to stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, told DNR officials during a House hearing that the Legislature is ready to hear proposals as soon as possible.

“You can’t sit on your hands and not deal with this,” said McNamara, the chairman of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. “I want legislation here shortly to deal with this in a major way.”

 DNR officials told McNamara’s committee some far-reaching proposals could infringe on boaters’ movement from lake to lake and would be expensive. They also said fighting the pests would require help from local governments.”We get a lot of, ‘The DNR is not doing enough,’ ” Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species program supervisor, told the House committee. “But we turn around and say, ‘Help us.’ ”

McNamara’s challenge was a clear signal to the DNR to formulate the most stringent rules yet to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra mussels.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Bill seeks bar to DNR land buys
Some state representatives want to put the brakes on new land purchases by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has authored a bill that prohibits the state from purchasing land unless it puts up for sale an equal amount of state property. The idea is for the state to have no net gain of state land.

 The bill has 16 co-authors, including Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who has been a vocal opponent of the DNR acquiring additional land.

The bill is the strongest effort yet by House lawmakers to stop state land acquisition that is under way with money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

 Rukavina and others argue the DNR can’t maintain the land it owns, and thus shouldn’t buy any more.

DNR officials say land prices in many areas of the state are bargains and landowners are eager to sell to protect it for state parks, Wildlife Management Areas and lakeshore protection.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

  USGS predicts groundwater declines in Great Lakes basin
Though the Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, the basin has the potential for local shortages, according to a new basin-wide water availability assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For example, though groundwater pumping has had relatively little effect on water in the basin as a whole, pumping in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas has caused local groundwater levels to decline as much as 1,000 feet. Moreover, if pumping were to increase as anticipated in the region, water levels in these areas are estimated to decline an additional 100 feet by 2040.

 While there is an abundance of water in the region, we may see local shortages or conflicts because water is not distributed evenly,” said Howard Reeves, USGS scientist and lead author on this assessment. “In some areas, the physical quantity of water may be limiting, and water availability in most of the Great Lakes Basin will be determined by social decisions about impacts of new uses on existing users and the environment.”
–USGS News Release

Research depicts ground-surface water link
An article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes a new and simple way of measuring groundwater’s contribution to small streams on the surface.

Sinking land levels in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

By taking snapshots of streams with a device designed to capture, through infrared radiation images, the temperatures in various parts of the water, the approach “advances the immediate detection and quantification of localized groundwater inflow for hydrology, geology and ecology,” the article’s authors, Tobias Schuetz and Marcus Weiler of the University of Freiburg’s Institue of Hydrology, wrote. 

Groundwater, they found, tends to be cooler than surface water in summer and warmer in winter; the infrared devices record the difference and produce images that show groundwater as clearly as night goggles show a human figure in the dark.
–The New York Times

 Asian carp czar interviewed on MPR
The man President Barack Obama has charged with managing the Asian carp threat is hearing criticism that the government is not moving fast enough to prevent the invasive fish from infiltrating the Great Lakes.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is in the midst of 12 public meetings scheduled around the Great Lakes region to discuss the federal strategy.

 Asian species known as bighead and silver carp have migrated up the Illinois River. They are being stopped from entering Lake Michigan by an electric barrier 25 miles south of Chicago.

Biologists have warned that if they reach the Great Lakes they could starve out other fish and harm the eco-system.

 Goss was interviewed on MPR’s “All Things Considered.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Flooding predicted throughout Minnesota
The forecast for spring flooding statewide came down to two words:

 Look out. 

Offering their first formal long-range regional outlook of the season, Dan Luna, a National Weather Service meteorologist, and other officials said all the state’s rivers are expected to close roads, including major highways, foul up sewer systems and back up into basements again this spring. That’s almost certain to mean detours for metro-area commuters and hours of sandbagging and sump-pumping for residents from Fargo-Moorhead to Afton.

 ”Every river in the state of Minnesota is at risk of flooding this spring,” Luna said, noting how the third straight wet autumn was followed by snowfall that has been twice the norm (or more) over nearly the entire state. He said 3 to 6 inches of frozen water now rests atop frozen ground across Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Ex-MPCA head Brad Moore joins mining firm
A former head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who also held a top position at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, has been hired by PolyMet Mining Co. as the firm’s executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs.

 Duluth native Brad Moore will assume “overall responsibility for the Company’s effort to complete environmental review and obtain permits necessary for construction and operation of the’’ proposed PolyMet copper mining operation between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, the company announced.

 Moore served as PCA commissioner from 2006 to 2008 and as assistant commissioner for operations of the DNR from 1999 to 2006. He also worked in several policy positions at DNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Service (now the Department of Commerce.)

Moore’s “existing knowledge of the project and the process mean that he can step in immediately to effectively help the environmental review and permitting process move forward to completion,’’ said LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet’s vice president of public, governmental and environmental affairs, in a statement on the hiring.

 Moore has most recently worked for Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Dow, Nature Conservancy sign $10 million deal
Dow Chemical Co. pledged to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with a leading conservation group.

 The Michigan-based chemical company said it had entered a five-year, $10 million collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. Executives said they hoped to lead the way to a new era in which corporations and environmental advocates would become less confrontational and work together for sustainable economic growth. 

“Most people believe it’s a choice — it’s either grow the economy or protect the environment . . . the classic zero-sum game in which someone has to lose,” Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Dow intends to “demonstrate that protecting nature can be a profitable global priority and can be a smart business strategy,” Liveris said.
–The Associated Press

 Report: Population growth threatens Colorado ag land
Increasing water demands could dry up more than a half million acres of agricultural land in Colorado over the next several years.

That’s one of the findings of a new state report on the outlook for Colorado’s water supplies to 2050. The report by the Colorado Water Conservation Board updates one released in 2004 that identified water needs to 2030.

The report says if water use follows current trends, large volumes will be shifted away from agricultural uses, drying up as many as 700,000 irrigated acres. The report found that Colorado will have look to conservation, reusing water, local water projects and developing new water supplies to meet the state’s needs.
–The Associated Press

 Jordan gravel pit plan draws concern
A proposed gravel pit near Jordan has created a dust storm over concerns that the city’s water, air and roads could be damaged by the operation.

Officials in Sand Creek Township also oppose it because of possible groundwater contamination they believe could result from the digging. 

The proposed pit would be on about 80 acres in Sand Creek in the 17000 block of Valley View Drive, just north of Jordan near Hwy. 169. After the mining is done, the pit would be turned into a pond. 

“There’s a ton of issues out there,” said Cy Wolf, chairman of the Sand Creek Township board. “But that’s the biggest fear we have out there, Sand Creek flooding over.” If the polluted river were to flood, it could flow into the pond and contaminate it. From there, some fear, it could seep into the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Endangered status proposed for two freshwater mussels
In these parts, freshwater mussels often conjure up images of invasives, infestations and lake devastation. And that’s understandable. In October, zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake, and Brainerd’s best-known lake was designated as infested waters.

It was the second time in less than four months that zebra mussels were discovered in a popular Minnesota lake. In July, the DNR found them in Lake Minnetonka.

But not all mussels are bad. In fact, nearly all freshwater mussels are a positive for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two are in need of protection.

 The USFWS has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the sheepnose and the spectaclecase, two freshwater mussels found in river systems in Minnesota.
--The Brainerd Dispatch

 Anti-zebra mussel bacteria holds promise
A bacteria that can kill zebra and quagga mussels has raised hopes for private and public organizations fighting to control the environmentally hazardous species.

New York State Museum researchers Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer discovered a bacteria strain — Pseudomonas fluorescens — that can kill zebra and quagga mussels without killing other native species in the ecosystem.

“The eureka moment did not come, interestingly enough, when we discovered the bacteria could kill zebra and quagga mussels, but came when we discovered the lack of sensitivity among non-target species,” Mayer said in a phone interview.

Scientists have found plenty of agents capable of killing the mussels, but in most instances they’ve also killed everything else in an ecosystem, Mayer said.
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune 

USDA approves genetically modified alfalfa
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he would authorize the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa, setting aside a controversial compromise that had generated stiff opposition.

In making the decision, Mr. Vilsack pulled back from a novel proposal that would have restricted the growing of genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from so-called biotech contamination. That proposal drew criticism at a recent Congressional hearing and in public forums where Mr. Vilsack outlined the option.

 Mr. Vilsack said that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
–The New York Times

Got milk? Got antibiotics?
Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.
–The New York Times

Climate threatens Kenya, Ethiopia
The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics.

 This poses increased risk to the estimated 17.5 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa who currently face potential food shortages.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Barbara, determined that warming of the Indian Ocean, which causes decreased rainfall in eastern Africa, is linked to global warming. These new projections of continued drought contradict previous scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting increased rainfall in eastern Africa. 

This new research supports efforts by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify areas of potential drought and famine in order to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation, and water resources planning. 

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average,” said USGS scientist Chris Funk.
–USGS News Release 

Oregon rules seek to promote graywater use
Oregon has a new proposal to allow reuse of household and business wastewater for irrigation — and, yes, it excludes wastewater from toilets.

The draft “graywater” regulations require homeowners, schools, businesses, apartment complexes and others to apply for permits costing at least $50 a year before installing irrigation systems using water from showers, baths, sinks or washers.

That’s tougher than California, which decided in 2009 not to require permits for the simplest graywater systems.

But the costs and paperwork in Oregon should be lower than the patchwork of local regulation and permits in place now, regulators say.
–The Oregonian

 Silt building up at mouth of Mississippi
River pilots and exporters are warning that the mouth of the Mississippi River is silting in, threatening a major commercial route, because there is not enough money to pay for dredges that normally keep the channel open.

Seizing on the State of the Union speech, they said the muddy picture on the Mississippi undermines President Barack Obama’s goal of making the United States more competitive. In his speech, Obama told Americans he was focused on “doubling our exports … because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.”

The Mississippi River is a major thoroughfare to the world’s markets for grain, soybeans, pig iron, coal and many other products for 29 states and Canada. About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports cross the mouth of the Mississippi.

But to keep the cargo flowing, the river needs constant tinkering.

The Mississippi carries huge amounts of silt and sediment down river — about 200 million tons a year — and unless it is stirred up by dredges the river clogs up — and that’s what’s happening now.
–The Associated Press

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$26 million available to retire flood-prone land

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.

$26 million available for flood-prevention easements 
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service announced that $26 million is available to retire marginal or damaged cropland in southern Minnesota that is frequently or occasionally flooded.

 The highest priority sites will result in restoration of wetlands and grasslands through the RIM-WRP partnership. Most of the money will be focused in floodplain areas in the 29 counties that sustained damages as identified in the federal disaster declaration, resulting from record rainfalls on Sept. 22-23, 2010.

 The total amount includes $10 million in state dollars appropriated for flood recovery in the 2010 special legislative session, which is expected to leverage $16 million in federal dollars.

 “The primary goal of these state and federal dollars is to provide additional flood relief and protection on privately owned lands adjacent to water bodies,” said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director. “But the restored floodplains and grasslands will also provide multiple benefits for wildlife habitat and water quality.”

 Counties where the money is available are:  Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Jackson, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Olmsted, Pipestone, Redwood, Rice, Rock, Sibley, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan, Winona, Yellow Medicine.

 RIM-WRP is a local-state-federal partnership that combines the state’s Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve conservation easement program with the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program.
–BWSR-NRCS  News Release

California water official invokes ‘reasonable’ use
A newly appointed Delta water overseer wants to use the state constitution to enforce farm water conservation, contending that even small improvements could result in big savings.

 Craig Wilson is California’s first Delta watermaster, a position created by sweeping water reforms lawmakers passed at the end of 2009.

 In his first report to regulators, Wilson will argue  that farmers who use water inefficiently are violating the constitution’s requirement that its use be “reasonable.”

 His recommendations, if adopted, would mark the first time the doctrine has been applied so broadly.
–The Contra Costa Times

 Amendment’s sales tax funds environmental work
In the two years since Minnesota voters amended the state Constitution to dedicate millions to the environment and arts, following the money trail has been tough.

 Almost $457 million in Legacy Amendment funding has been sent to Minnesota groups and agencies even while the state tackles its $6.25 billion budget shortfall. But a state-run website to help citizens follow the money is at least two months behind schedule, and not all of the money has been distributed.

 Aware that legislators might be tempted to hijack Legacy funds to help with the budget, outdoors and arts groups are voicing concerns about the future even as they complete reports about how Legacy money has been spent so far, and prepare recommendations for the next round of grants.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill panel calls for sweeping regulation
The presidential panel investigating the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico recommended that Congress approve substantial new spending and sweeping new regulations for offshore oil operations at a time when the appetite for both is low.

Releasing its final report, the commission found that the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill arose from a preventable series of corporate and regulatory failures. It warned that unless industry practices and government regulation improved, another such accident was inevitable.

 “If dramatic steps are not taken,” said Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida and a co-chairman of the commission, “I’m afraid at some point in the coming years another failure will occur, and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did the industry allow this to happen again.”
–The New York Times

 EPA halts mountain-top mine project
The Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop-removal coal mining projects, saying the mine would have done unacceptable damage to rivers, wildlife and communities in West Virginia.

Arch Coal’s proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County has been the subject of controversy since the Bush administration approved its construction in 2007, issuing a permit required under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists and local residents strongly opposed the sprawling project, and the Obama administration moved last year to rescind the permit, prompting lawsuits by West Virginia and the coal company.

 The agency’s action is certain to provoke an outcry from West Virginia politicians, the coal industry and other businesses that have raised objections to what they consider economically damaging regulatory overreach by the E.P.A.

The coal mining project would have involved dynamiting the tops off mountains over an area of 2,278 acres to get at the rich coal deposits beneath.
–The New York Times

Report: Coon Rapids dam could halt Asian carp
A $16 million upgrade could turn the 97-year-old Coon Rapids Dam into an effective barrier against Asian carp migrating up the Mississippi River, a consultant reported.

 A dam with new gates, a repaired underwater apron and revised operating rules to keep upstream water at summer levels year-round could make the dam 99 to 100 percent effective at stopping the carp from jumping upriver to Minnesota’s prime game fish lakes, said Martin Weber, principal water resources engineer for Stanley Consultants.

 Weber reported his findings to the Coon Rapids Dam Commission, a panel of public officials and citizens established by the Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

Great Lakes research looks beyond Asian carp
While public attention has been riveted on the Asian carp’s progress toward Lake Michigan, scientists are mapping out just what the next invasion might be and what, if anything, could be done to stop it.

A team of university and government researchers has identified 75 species that could find their way into the Great Lakes basin over time. Some of them are bad actors.

The next invasion could arrive in the murky ballast waters of ocean-going ships. It could come via the aquarium trade, sold at a pet store and later released. The next invader, experts say, could arrive in a truck selling bait, fish or water lilies for country ponds or urban water gardens. It could even arrive as live food at market.
–The Grand Rapids Press

New Hampshire not running out of water, after all
When state and federal officials recently looked at the history of water levels in New Hampshire wells, they found what appeared to be an alarming problem: In 2006, water in the average drilled well was 13 feet lower than it had been in 1984.

 That’s a decline of about 7 inches a year, measured in almost 60,000 wells found in every part of the state.  This leads to an obvious conclusion: New Hampshire is draining its underground aquifers dry.

 Obvious, but wrong.

 “The water table isn’t getting lower and lower … despite how that seems,” said Brandon Kernen, of the state Department of Environmental Studies, who co-authored a report titled “Preliminary Assessment of Trends in Static Water Levels in Bedrock Wells in New Hampshire, 1984 to 2007.”
–The Nashua Telegraph

L.A. meets renewable energy goal
The City of Los Angeles had 20 percent of its power supplied via renewable energy resources in 2010, according to a release from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Hitting the mark fulfilled a promise made by Villaraigosa in 2005 to quadruple the amount of power coming from renewable sources.

 The biggest contributor has been the Pine Tree Wind Power Plant in the Tehachapi Mountains, which contributed half of the energy in the renewable segment. Other renewable sources included small hydro-electric, geothermal/biofuels and solar.
–Los Angeles Business
 

Schad named deputy DNR commissioner 
A veteran natural resource professional has been promoted to deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources by new DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Dave Schad, 53, has served in the DNR since his student worker days in 1981, most recently as director of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Division. Previously he was the agency’s Wildlife Section chief; he has also served as wildlife operations manager, regional wildlife manager, area wildlife supervisor, and statewide wetland wildlife coordinator and statewide forest wildlife program coordinator.
–KARE-TV

USGS may study White Bear Lake water levels
A detailed study of White Bear Lake water levels has landed federal money and officials are now working to finalize a study plan and secure local matching funds.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) officials will conduct a meeting next month to discuss plans for a study characterizing groundwater and surface water interactions in White Bear Lake. The study is estimated to cost approximately $200,000, with the federal government paying half and local public and private entities providing a match.

The February meeting will involve state, county and local government officials, representatives from local water governing boards, business leaders, and representatives from private associations and foundations. The various entities, called Groundwater and Surface Water Interaction Partners, will be asked to collectively supply around $100,000 and provide information gathering assistance.
–Vadnais Heights Press

 USGS weighs in on red-winged blackbirds’ deaths
Large wildlife die-off events are fairly common, though they should never be ignored, according to the U.S. Geological Survey scientists whose preliminary tests showed that the bird deaths in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve and those in Louisiana were caused by impact trauma.

Preliminary findings from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center’s Arkansas bird analyses suggest that the birds died from impact trauma, and these findings are consistent with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s statement.

The State concluded that such trauma was probably a result of the birds being startled by loud noises on the night of Dec. 31, arousing them and causing them to fly into objects such as houses or trees. Scientists at the USGS NWHC performed necropsies—the animal version of an autopsy—on the birds and found internal hemorrhaging, while the pesticide tests they conducted were negative.

In 2010, the USGS NWHC documented eight die-off events of 1,000 or more birds. The causes: starvation, avian cholera, Newcastle disease and parasites. Such records show that, while the causes of death may vary, events like the red-winged blackbird die-off in Beebe, Ark., and the smaller one near Baton Rouge, La., are more common than people may realize.
–USGS News Release

 

Continue Reading

3M sued by state; Aasen to lead MPCA

State sues 3M over perfluorochemicals in water
3M Co. must pay for polluting Minnesota’s water, according to the Minnesota attorney general’s office.

The state sued 3M in Hennepin County for allowing PFCs — perfluorochemicals — to leach into groundwater in Washington County over several decades. The company also allegedly discharged PFCs into the Mississippi River.

The lawsuit does not ask for specific damages. But potential damages would be in the tens of millions of dollars, which would make the case one of the largest environmental suits in Minnesota history.

 Attorney General Lori Swanson said her office agreed with 3M in May to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. Those negotiations failed.

 ”3M polluted and damaged our waters with these chemicals,” Swanson said. “The lawsuit asks the company to make right the problems caused by its contamination of our waters.”

 The suit takes a novel approach by claiming the PFCs hurt the environment — but not people.

That makes it different from a landmark 2009 lawsuit. That suit filed by a group of Washington County residents alleged the PFCs harmed people who drank the water.

 In that trial, lawyers pointed out that mega-doses of PFCs have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems in mice. But a judge ruled, in effect, that the traces of PFCs were so small that no one was hurt.

 The trial ended in a jury decision that supported 3M.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Aasen named to lead MPCA
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton filled three prominent jobs in his administration, naming heads for the education and health departments as well as a potentially controversial choice for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The new education commissioner will be Brenda Cassellius, who grew up in a Minneapolis housing project, began her career as a social studies teacher in St. Paul and has been a school administrator in the Twin Cities and Memphis. The choice for health commissioner, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, is the longtime leader of the student health service at the University of Minnesota.

 MPCA Commissioner-designate Paul Aasen was director of government relations and policy for Gov. Jesse Ventura and more recently a director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Aasen’s appointment was lauded by officials from the Freshwater Society and the Minnesota Farmers Union, but his involvement in environmental litigation may make him a controversial selection for some Republicans.
–The Star Tribune 

 EPA announces massive Chesapeake clean-up plan
The Environmental Protection Agency established an aggressive “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay, spelling out steps that six states and the District must take by 2025 to put the troubled estuary on the path to recovery.

The legally enforceable road map – more than 200 pages long, with more than 3,000 pages of appendices – will affect a variety of activities in the region, including how pig and chicken farms dispose of waste and the way golf course operators fertilize their fairways.

 The plan is “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation,” said Shawn M. Garvin, the agency’s regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic region. It is intended to fundamentally change the tenor of the long-failed Chesapeake cleanup. The EPA once preached cooperation with state efforts it was supposed to oversee. Now, it is playing cop, promising legal punishments if the states don’t live up to their pledges to cut pollution.

 Some state and local officials warned the plan could be costly and hard to execute, particularly at a time when state budgets are under immense pressure.
–The Washington Post

China plans $30 billion water conservation effort
The Chinese government is expected to spend about 200 billion yuan ($30.10 billion) on water conservation projects in 2011, a tenth more than in 2010, the state-run China Daily reported.

 Priority will be given to improving irrigation to ensure grain security and projects to combat drought and floods, the newspaper said.

 It cited Water Resources Minister Chen Lei as telling a government meeting that some of the investment would come from a 10 percent levy on income earned from the leasing of land. The newspaper did not elaborate.

 Other funds would go toward renovating water supply infrastructure for main agriculture regions and ensuring safe drinking water for 60 million rural people, the newspaper added.

Over the next 10 years, Chen said he hopes the country can double its current average annual investment in water conservation construction,” it said.

The government has invested about 700 billion yuan on water conservation over the past five years, the newspaper said.
–Reuters

Heron Lake ethanol plant to pay $60,000 penalty
 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC has agreed to pay a $66,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Heron Lake in southwest Minnesota.

The agreement covers violations that date back to when the company began construction of the facility in October 2005.  During subsequent operations beginning in September 2007, the facility violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits on a number of occasions. 

The air quality violations covered in the agreement include exceedances of permitted emissions limits, failure to conduct monitoring as required by the permit, failure to maintain emissions-control equipment as required, and failure to report or certify data to the MPCA as required. 

Water quality violations covered in the agreement include failure to obtain prior MPCA approval to use chemical additives in wastewater processing, failure to provide specified holding times for samples, failure to monitor for specified pollutants at the frequency required, exceedances of permitted effluent limits, and failure to install or maintain required flow-monitoring equipment prior to discharging. 
–MPCA News Release

Granite Falls ethanol plant seeks expansion
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  has completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for a proposed expansion of the Granite Falls Energy ethanol facility at Granite Falls, Minn.  The EAW will be available for the public to comment through January 26th, 2011.    

Granite Falls Energy, LLC proposes to expand its existing fuel-ethanol production facility by increasing its permitted capacity to produce un-denatured ethanol from 49.9 million gallons per year to 70 MMGY.  The expansion would be achieved by adding additional equipment to support ethanol production.  The additional equipment will be located within the facility’s current property boundary.  The primary fuel for the facility will be natural gas.

The expansion requires modification of the facility’s wastewater permit  and air emission permit.  The draft modified permits will be placed on public notice on or shortly after the start of the public comment period for the EAW, and will remain open for comment for 30 days.

A public information meeting will be held January 10, 2011, at 7:00 p.m., in the auditorium of the Minnesota West Technical and Community College in Granite Falls.  MPCA staff will also be available for one hour before the meeting to answer questions in an open-house format. 

The EAW is a review of how a proposed project could potentially affect the environment.  The EAW also helps the MPCA determine if an Environmental Impact Statement, a more in-depth environmental review, is needed. 

Written comments on the GFE expansion project EAW must be received by 4:30 p.m. January 26th, 2011.  Comments should be sent to Steve Sommer, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.

Copies of the EAW are available for review on the MPCA’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/news/eaw/index.html
–MPCA News Release

China making electricity from desert sand
Scientists are testing out the nation’s first sand heat power plant, which went into operation December 10 in the desert in Wuhai, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to a Xinhua news report .

 During the day, air in the ground-level greenhouse is heated by the sun, forcing hot air to rise up through the brick chimney and drive a turbine positioned at the top of the plant.

 Then after the sun falls, heat absorbed by surrounding sand continues to heat greenhouse air, keeping the turbine running, according to Wei Yili, a professor specializing in solar power at Inner Mongolia’s University of Science and Technology.

 The plant, co-developed with Spain’s Technical University of Madrid, has an operational lifespan of about 70 years, much longer than that of wind farms and solar plants, which typically stand 20 to 25 years.
–Global Times

 Legacy logo celebrates  environment funding
If you wonder where all the money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is going, a new logo will tell you.

 The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Monday unveiled it’s new Legacy logo designed by Bernadette Stephenson of St. Cloud, one of 76 entries submitted as part of a state-wide contest.

 ”The decision was tough because we had so many great entries to consider,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “We feel this logo is memorable, distinctive, and sophisticated. It also clearly illustrates the four funds.”

 The logo had to illustrate the clean water, outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage funds that were established following passage of the Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The contest was mandated by the 2010 Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

 GOP lawmaker  targets environmental  rules
It was a campaign theme almost as common as no-new-taxes for Republican candidates from Tom Emmer on down: Minnesota environmental regulators are paralyzing Minnesota farmers and business owners with needlessly complicated and time-consuming regulations.

Emmer lost the race for governor, but Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House and Senate. And Republican Rep. Tony Cornish is making sure that environmental regulation will be one of the first topics of discussion in the 2011 legislative session that starts next week.

“The regulations are so complex and so time-delaying it’s killing businesses,” said Cornish, a fifth-termer from rural Good Thunder.

Cornish asked for hearings in committees overseeing agriculture and the environment and said he has received a commitment for a hearing, probably before the end of January, from Rep. Denny McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Mankato Free Press

 L. Tahoe boat inspection rules praised
A watercraft inspection program prevented the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe in 2010, according to regional officials.

Watercraft inspectors managed by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, in cooperation with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, performed more than 8,000 boat inspections during the 2010 boating season, officials revealed this week. A total of 19,000 watercraft launches occurred with Tahoe-specific inspection seals.

Of those 11 watercraft containing aquatic invasive species were intercepted and decontaminated, officials confirmed.

“We’re very happy with the watercraft inspection program thus far,” said Patrick Stone, TRPA’s senior wildlife and fisheries biologist and lead for early detection monitoring of invasive mussels. “Investigations conducted around Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake and Echo Lake confirmed that quagga and zebra mussels have not established in our lakes. These results are a credit to the inspection program.”
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune

L.A. poised to capture urban runoff
It is one of the Southland’s enduring contradictions. The region that laid pipe across hundreds of miles and tunneled through mountains to import water also built an extensive storm drain system to get rid of rainfall as quickly as possible.

That’s exactly what happened recently, when tens of billions of gallons of runoff that could lessen the region’s need for those faraway sources were dumped into the Pacific. Enough water poured from Los Angeles streets to supply well over 130,000 homes for a year.

As Southern California’s traditional water supplies diminish under a variety of pressures, all that runoff sheeting across sidewalks and roads into the maws of storm drains is finally getting some respect.
“This isn’t wastewater until we waste it,” said Noah Garrison, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who co-wrote a 2009 paper on capturing and reusing storm water.

The report concluded that the region could increase local supplies by an amount equal to more than half of Los Angeles’ annual water demand by incorporating relatively simple water-harvesting techniques in new construction and redevelopments. These include installing cisterns and designing landscaping to retain runoff and let it seep into the ground.

Los Angeles is poised to adopt an ordinance that takes a step in that direction. Most new and redeveloped commercial, industrial and larger apartment projects would have to be designed to capture the runoff generated by the first three-quarters of an inch of rain. New single-family homes would have to install a rain-harvesting device, such as a rain barrel or a hose that diverts water from gutters to landscaping.
–The Los Angeles Times

Biologists try scents in battling lampreys
In the never-ending battle to prevent blood-sucking sea lamprey from wiping out some of the most popular fish species in the Great Lakes, biologists are developing new weapons that exploit three certainties in the eel-like parasites’ lives: birth, sex and death.

Researchers are beginning the third and final year of testing lab-refined mating pheromones — scents emitted by male lampreys to attract females. They’re also working on a mixture with the stench of rotting lamprey flesh, which live ones detest, and another that smells of baby lampreys, which adults love. If proven effective, the chemicals will be deployed across the region to steer the aquatic vermin to where they can be trapped or killed.

Early results appear promising. Yet no one expects the lures and repellents to finally rid the lakes of the despised invader and enable fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada to end a battle that has cost more than $400 million over five decades. Especially when a single spawning female lays up to 60,000 eggs.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Washington State cuts environmental funding
The bad economy can be hard on the environment as well as people.

 Earlier this month state lawmakers, faced with declining revenue from taxes and fees, reduced the state Department of Ecology’s budget by $5.8 million. They’d already reduced cut $38.9 million from the agency’s budget earlier this year and in 2009, as the effects of the Great Recession set in. Next year, even more could be taken out as Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing more trims.

 Environmentalists say the cuts are “heartbreaking” and will make it difficult to clean up waterways and other areas, but others say the cuts are necessary in a time when education and health care funding is also being slashed.

 ”As the (income) dollars shrink, what we can provide shrinks,” said Erik Fairchild, the agency’s budget policy manager. “It’s less public health protection, less environmental protection, less field presence, less technical assistance (and) reduced loans and grants” for projects such as sewage treatment plants.

Ecology department operating budgets were on the rise before the economic crisis hit in late 2008, increasing from $402 million for the 2005-07 budget period to $457 million for 2007-09 and $440 million in the current budget.
–The Seattle Post- Intelligencer 

Huge copper mine planned in Arizona
When former miner Roy Chavez heard about plans to develop the nation’s largest copper mine near Superior, Ariz., he thought it might be the salvation of the economically struggling town where he’d grown up and served as mayor.

But as he learned more about the proposal to tap an ore body more than 7,000 feet deep with a method known as “block cave” mining, he changed his mind. Now he fears that the project would be environmentally destructive and limit Superior’s ability to develop tourism and other industries.

“Mining is the nature of the beast in this area. I support the industry and the livelihood it provides,” said Chavez, who comes from a mining family and worked in the Magma Copper mine nearby until it closed in 1996. “But there’s a situation here with this project that just doesn’t sit well with us.”
–The Washington Post

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Beer, Asian carp, manganese and nutria

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.

Want a beer with that climate talk?
Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, will give a free public lecture — “Weather vs. Climate: A Minnesota Perspective” – Wednesday, Dec. 8, as part of  a new science happy hour series from the university’s  National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.

The happy hour lecture series is called “A SIP OF SCIENCE.”   It will be held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St. at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

 The series — free and open to the public – combines food, beer and learning in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications and its fascinations.

Seeley will touch on such questions as: Are summers in Minnesota really getting more hot and humid? Are we experiencing more frequent thunderstorms than we used to? If so, what does it all mean? How do we put our day-to-day weather experiences into the context of a changing Minnesota Climate?

U.N. climate negotiators gather in Cancun
To hear climate change negotiators describe it, this week’s U.N. global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, is shaping up like a confab of homebuilders.

 Delegates say they are “laying foundations,” setting up “frameworks” and installing the “building blocks” for a future treaty.

They might also need a bomb shelter. Analysts say a blast is ready to detonate, and it’s called the Kyoto Protocol.

 ”It is one of those issues that could blow up in a toxic way,” one British climate diplomat told ClimateWire.

 As negotiators from 192 countries descend on the Latin American city, best known for its sandy, white beaches and spring break nightlife, many delegates still carry the bitterness of last year’s contentious climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the same time, participants insist, they spent much of 2010 trying to repair the rifts and are ready to get to work.
–The New York Times

 Manganese rule relaxation rejected
Minnesota will keep, for now, an existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Health was proposing to weaken the rule, but reversed course after receiving public comments.

 One of those comments came from Paula Maccabee at the environmental group Water Legacy.

“We’re very pleased that the Minnesota Health Department has listened to Water Legacy and other citizens of Minnesota, and is keeping in place Minnesota rules that protect children and elderly persons,” Maccabe said. “We think that’s a very positive step.”

 About 30 individuals and public interest groups protested, pointing to a health effects study published in September.

 At small dose, manganese is good for us, but in larger amounts it can harm the nervous system. The Health Department was planning to adopt a looser federal standard, until it could study the problem thoroughly.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 ”In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Coming to a fur coat near you: Invasive nutria
What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. In New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.

 Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

 A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
–Audubon Magazine

 Invasive medusahead grass threatens rangeland
Burmese pythons in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, feral pigs and other mammals in Hawaii: These are just a few of the dozens of stories about animals introduced — accidentally or deliberately — in the U.S. that have ended up playing havoc on regional ecologies and economies.

But invasive species also extend to plant life. Residents of the South are well acquainted with kudzu, the fast-growing and disruptive vine originally intended as livestock feed and for erosion control. Purple loosestrife arrived in New England back in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, but now threatens to clog and dry out great areas of America’s wetlands — while reportedly costing communities across the country about $45 million a year in control efforts.

Here’s yet another invasive plant species, and a particularly nasty one, to add to the list: Medusahead, aka medusa’s head. It’s a Mediterranean grass accidentally brought to the Western U.S. in the 1880s. Researchers at Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service have a new report warning that Medusahead is threatening to crowd out native grasslands in the West — to the detriment of both wildlife and livestock.
–Daily Finance

Asian carp heads back to Asia
An Illinois fish processor is sending 44,000 pounds of Asian carp back to Asia as food. A small startup in Pearl, Ill., the Big River Fish Company is just one group that sees Asian carp not as a voracious, invasive species, but as a business opportunity.

 Asian carp can be huge — up to 100 pounds — and they have been feasting on native fish in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Originally introduced to the United States in the 1970s to eat algae, the carp now threaten the Great Lakes.

But those attempting to market the fish say the tasty white meat is destined for culinary greatness, and some fishermen see the carp as the next frontier in commercial fish production.
–National Public Radio

Putting the (farmed) perch back in fish fries
Three Milwaukee entrepreneurs have launched an experiment in an abandoned crane factory to try to reestablish a fish native to Lake Michigan: perch. The fish was once a stable of the traditional Friday fish fry. But in the 1980s, the perch population in Lake Michigan plunged and by 1996 commercial fishing was banned.
–National Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 ”In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Drinking water emergency called in California town
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of percchlorate,  a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism. 

According to the governor’s declaration, more than 40,000 customers were without their normal supply of drinking water, and several restaurants, hotels and other businesses had to close because of the contamination.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Invasive lionfish threatened Florida ecosystem
Crawling through turquoise murk on the ocean floor near Tea Table Key, Rob Pillus glances at a half dozen lobsters that twirl their antennae in the fast-moving current. Mr. Pillus, an avid spear fisherman, would normally stuff the crustaceans into his mesh bag for dinner, but today he is after more exotic quarry: an invasive species called the lionfish that threatens to wreak havoc on this ecologically sensitive marine system.

 Within a few minutes Mr. Pillus spots a lionfish and its extravagant zebra-striped fins on a bridge pylon. He steadies his homemade spear and skewers the fish, slicing off its venomous fins before putting it in his bag. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up and keeps moving.
–The New York Times

 Rep. McCollum calls for triclosan ban
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and two congressional colleagues are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps, shampoos, household cleaners and even such products as socks and toys. They’ve asked for a full review of triclosan to be submitted to Congress by April. The co-sponsors are Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that for years the scientific community has expressed concern over triclosan contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.”

“Bacteria – bugs around us – are actually quite smart, and exposing them to antibacterials or antimicrobial chemicals helps to make them smarter. So putting an antibacterial or antimicrobial like Triclosan out there in the environment and our waterways unnecessarily is just not a good idea at all.”
–public news service

Comments sought on Lake Vermillion park plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine state parks to attend one of two open houses in December to comment on the parks’ draft master plan.

 The draft master plan, which covers both state parks, includes statements about the types of activities (e.g., hiking, camping, boating) that will be offered, how natural and cultural resources will be protected and interpreted, and suggested locations for major facilities within the parks.

The open houses will be: 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m., Silverwood Regional Park, 2500 W. County Road E., Fridley.
  • Thursday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tower Civic Center, 402 Pine St., Tower.

 For an electronic copy of the plan, more information, and a public input questionnaire about the parks’ draft master plan, call the DNR at  651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
–DNR News Release

Water security as a national and global issue
The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a new and interesting fact sheet on the importance fresh water plays in national and global security.

 It describes how conflicts over water can occur and can be exacerbated by population increase and economic growth.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 

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Manure, local food and Asian carp

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.

Manure clean-up effort lags in Minnesota
Thousands of small farms may still be allowing animal manure to contaminate waters across Minnesota, a decade after a state environmental program was created to help curtail the hazardous practice.

The cleanup effort, which had a deadline of Oct. 1, has languished because of funding shortages, oversight problems by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the inability to get more farmers to participate. MPCA officials said last week they don’t know how many farms still need fixing. Two years ago, the last time they checked, more than 3,000 farms in the state did. 

At stake is the health of many Minnesota lakes and streams, where manure from so-called animal feedlots can carry disease-causing bacteria that make waters unsafe for swimmers, anglers and others. Untreated waste can also kill fish, harm aquatic plants, and create a chain of environmental problems.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin DNR suspects manure in fish kill
Investigators with the state Department of Natural Resources and Dane County say it is likely that a fish kill in late September on the Sugar River was caused by manure runoff.

But Dave Wood, a DNR conservation warden, said investigators have not been able to pinpoint the origin of the manure. 

“We found out there was a lot of liquid manure being spread in the upper watershed then,” Wood said. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department also worked on the investigation. 

The fish kill probably happened between Sept. 23 and Sept. 26 and killed more than 50 fish, including some trophy-sized brown trout. The stretch of river where the fish died is near Riley; the fish were found along a section of river running roughly from the intersections of highways P and S southeast to Highway PD.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

 Horner pledges to make water quality a priority
Calling conservation of natural resources a defining issue for Minnesotans, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner pledged to make restoring water quality a top priority if he is elected governor.

 Standing in warm autumn sunlight at St. Paul’s Como Park, Horner said his first goal is “reversing degradation to our lakes, streams and waterways and groundwater.”

With the state facing a projected $5.8 billion budget deficit, Horner acknowledged that he wouldn’t be able to significantly increase funding for natural resources in the next two years, but said, “Let’s not take any more money away.”

 He would borrow money through the sale of bonds to purchase conservation reserve easements along farm drainage ditches to protect water quality and offer low-interest loans to small cities to upgrade their sewage-treatment facilities.

To properly staff the front lines in protecting lakes from invasive species and pollution, Horner also pledged to hire a “full complement” of conservation officers. Currently, 10 percent of those jobs are vacant, he said. 

“That can’t be sacrificed to a budget deficit,” he said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Wal-Mart announces focus on local food
The local-and-sustainable food movement has spread to the nation’s largest retailer.

Wal-Mart Stores announced a program that focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.

Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business, but they questioned how “local” a $405 billion company with two million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.
–The New York Times

Asian carp may lead to re-engineering of Chicago waterways
The battle over closing Chicago-area outlets into Lake Michigan is not only about preventing Asian carp from decimating the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry, experts said. It has also prompted efforts to re-engineer a century-old waterway system that Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, has compared to “having left Michigan Avenue a dirt road while we built up a modern city around it.”

Michigan and four other states have filed suit in federal court demanding the closure of locks that connect rivers and channels to the lake.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has countered that Asian carp pose no imminent ecological threat and shutting the locks would mean billions in losses for tour boats, shipping and other industries.

Urban planners and environmental groups said there is another way to deal with the Asian carp threat: separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, which were joined a century ago by the man-made reversal of the Chicago River and the building of canals.

Separation could also involve overhauling Chicago’s outdated wastewater-treatment system and reduce the city’s controversial diversion of two billion gallons of water a day out of Lake Michigan into the Chicago River.
–The Chicago News Cooperative

EPA plays catch-up on Florida pollution
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is supposed to enforce the nation’s rules on water pollution, has suffered a pair of black eyes from two recent court cases in Florida.

In both cases, the agency has been forced to agree it has done a poor job of stopping pollution in Florida. In both, the EPA has now pledged to impose tougher standards to clean up the mess. In both, industry officials and politicians are strongly objecting to the EPA’s crackdown because the fix will cost so much money.

“Had they been doing their job all along, we wouldn’t be in this boat,” said Paul Schweip, an attorney for Friends of the Everglades, one of the organizations that sued over pollution problems.

Both cases are causing the agency major headaches.
–The St. Petersburg Times

Seattle U. eliminates plastic water bottles
Out with plastic at Seattle University. In with stainless steel water bottles.

The university is the sixth in the nation — and the first in Washington state — to eliminate plastic water bottles from cafeterias, stores and vending machines. Instead, students are encouraged to purchase a reusable water bottle for $9.99.

SU installed more than 30 water fountains with bottle fillers around campus, preparing to eliminate disposable bottles as part of a “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign.

A portion of the proceeds from reusable water bottles will be donated to Engineers Without Borders.

“For every bottle sold, four Haitians will drink clean water for ten years from the water treatment systems bought and maintained by Engineers Without Borders,” SU officials wrote.
–The Seattle Post Intelligencer

Manitoba considers ‘grey water’ rules
Attic insulation. Check

Last night’s bathtub water in the toilet. Huh?

Yup, the province is on the cusp of updating the building code to include grey water collection systems that use bathtub and shower water in toilet systems instead of freshwater as clean as your drinking water.

“We do think it’s a pretty innovative way to reduce water consumption, to be easier on our municipal water infrastructure,” Labour Minister Jennifer Howard said in outlining changes to Manitoba’s new building and plumbing codes.

“Right now we flush our toilets with drinkable water. The same water that comes out of your tap to drink is the water we flush down the toilet. Lots of countries in the world have a different view of that. They have the ability to use, you do your dishes, you use that water to flush the toilet.”

Howard said the province will approve in-home grey water collection systems if they meet Canadian Standards Association requirements, which are expected to be released in December.
–The Winnipeg Free Press

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Farm tiling called major cause of hypoxia

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.

Tile drainage main cause of hypoxia, research says
Tile drainage in the Mississippi Basin is one of the great advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, allowing highly productive agriculture in what was once land too wet to farm. In fact, installation of new tile systems continues every year, because it leads to increased crop yields. But a recent study shows that the most heavily tile-drained areas of North America are also the largest contributing source of nitrate to the Gulf of Mexico, leading to seasonal hypoxia. In the summer of 2010 this dead zone in the Gulf spanned over 7,000 square miles. 

Scientists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University compiled information on each county in the Mississippi River basin including crop acreage and yields, fertilizer inputs, atmospheric deposition, number of people, and livestock to calculate all nitrogen inputs and outputs from 1997 to 2006. For 153 watersheds in the basin, they also used measurements of nitrate concentration and flow in streams, which allowed them to develop a statistical model that explained 83 percent of the variation in springtime nitrate flow in the monitored streams. The greatest nitrate loss to streams corresponded to the highly productive, tile-drained cornbelt from southwest Minnesota across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. 

This area of the basin has extensive row cropping of fertilized corn and soybeans, a flat landscape with tile drainage, and channelized ditches and streams to facilitate drainage. 

“Farmers are not to blame,” said University of Illinois researcher Mark David. “They are using the same amount of nitrogen as they were 30 years ago and getting much higher corn yields, but we have created a very leaky agricultural system. This allows nitrate to move quickly from fields into ditches and on to the Gulf of Mexico. We need policies that reward farmers to help correct the problem.” 

The research is published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality published by the American Society of Agronomists.
–Science Daily

 Ethanol plants violate air, water rules
The rush to produce more ethanol and strengthen Minnesota’s farm economy has come with an environmental price for communities hosting the huge plants.

 Five ethanol facilities have been cited in the past 12 months for widespread air and water quality violations. They have paid more than $2.8 million in penalties and corrective actions. Alarmed state pollution control officials are scrambling to help operators understand and comply with laws.

In the most recent penalty, Buffalo Lake Energy in Fairmont will pay $285,000. It’s a new plant that began production in June 2008 with a wastewater treatment system not permitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp czar talks about battle plan
In an interview with National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel, John Goss, the Obama administration’s “Asian carp czar,” outlined his game plan for keeping the invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. One long-term solution might be a poison that would kill the carp, but not harm humans or other animals.

Scientists may experiment with toxins or genetic engineering, hoping they could alter the carp’s digestive system and/or reproductive system, Goss said.
–National Public Radio

Health Dept. warns consumers on water treatment sales
The Minnesota Department of Health is reminding Minnesota residents to beware of false claims, deceptive sales pitches, and scare tactics being used by some water treatment companies to sell expensive and unnecessary water treatment systems. High profile investigations of groundwater contamination in Washington County and elsewhere in the state have resulted in a noticeable increase in the number of complaints regarding such deceptive sales activities.

In some of the worst instances, the salesperson has implied or said that he is working with the city’s water utility or the state health department. In most cases, the systems are being sold for thousands of dollars more than they would cost if bought through a reputable water treatment company.

Even legitimate water treatment systems can be very expensive and if poorly operated or maintained may have limited effectiveness and, in some cases, make the water quality worse.

If you use city water, it should be safe to drink.
–Minnesota Health Department News Release

 Legislators eye lake development rules
Confusion over regulations critical to lakefront development has led two state senators to consider legislative changes to how Minnesota manages one of its most precious natural resources. 

Court decisions have become so convoluted that laws may need to be fixed, said state Sens. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, and Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. “I have to ask if we’re being fair to Minnesotans,” Olson said. “The court decisions are very lacking in uniformity.”

 As a result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling, city residents are now forbidden from getting a zoning variance if they still have any “reasonable” existing use for their land. But for those living in unincorporated areas, the same Supreme Court all but guarantees the ability to win a variance. Mix in spotty enforcement with local politics and the result, elected officials, civil servants, landholders and advocates agree, is a morass.
–The Star Tribune 

Zebra  mussels found in Gull Lake
Zebra mussels have invaded Gull Lake, one of the Brainerd area’s more popular lakes.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Dan Swanson, Department of Natural Resources invasive species specialist. “It’s a premier lake, used by a lot of people for fishing, boating, swimming and other recreation.”

The infestation is a blow to the Brainerd Lakes area and Gull Lake residents, who have tried to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. The impact to infested lakes varies, but the mussels filter vast amounts of water, which can affect water clarity, vegetation growth and thus possibly fisheries. 

“What will happen is unpredictable,” Swanson said.

 The discovery underscores the likelihood that zebra mussels will continue to spread throughout Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, despite efforts to educate boaters to drain their bilges and livewells when leaving lakes. In the past two years, the tiny mussels have been found in some of the state’s bigger and more heavily used lakes, including Mille Lacs, Minnetonka, Prior and Le Homme Dieu, and in parts of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Zumbro rivers.
–The Star Tribune

 State land purchases are controversial
Some northern Minnesota counties worry they’re losing their taxable lands. The state already owns millions of acres that counties can’t tax.

 Now, flush with cash from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the state is buying up even more land.

 County leaders say it could squeeze their ability to provide services to residents.

 About 30 miles northwest of Bemidji, there’s a small, shallow lake that’s home to loons, eagles and a handful of cabin-dwellers. 

Balm Lake also has a mile-long stretch of undeveloped shoreline, and the DNR wants to buy it. The agency wants to purchase more than 150 acres to protect the sensitive lake from further development.

The DNR would use money from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was established after Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. 

Last month, Beltrami County leaders objected to the purchase because it removes land from their tax base.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Water Resources Conference set Oct. 19-20
Civil and environmental engineering solutions to wastewater issues, surface water contaminants and aquatic management will be among the topics of the Oct. 19-20 Minnesota Water Resources Conference.

 The conference is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center and College of Continuing Education at the Saint Paul RiverCentre, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul.

 Larry B. Barber, a chief geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Central Region Office in Boulder, Colo., will kick off the conference with a talk on the “Effect of Biologically Active Consumer Product Chemicals on Aquatic Ecosystems” at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.

 Conference topics include emerging contaminants in lakes, rivers and groundwater; technologies such as Minnesota’s Light Detection and Ranging high-resolution mapping project; and best practices in the design and application of filtration, drainage and wastewater systems. 

For registration details, visit wrc.umn.edu or call (612) 625-2900.
–University of Minnesota News Release

 Pollution leaching from old Hubbard County landfill
Under a benign-looking lush green hill in Hubbard County lurks a growing toxic concern.

The 9-acre former Pickett Landfill, which borders the Heartland Trail and is west of County Road 4, is about to become a household word once again. It now is a massive area of groundwater contamination that stretches from 204th Street on the north, then south and east of Ferndale Loop. It once held 93,269 cubic yards of municipal solid waste.

 It opened in 1973 and closed in 1987. Since then state pollution control officials have been monitoring the site for methane gas migration and ground water quality.

 Now, leaching chemicals have reached the point of concentration where public notification is necessary and mandated by law.

Those notices will go out to affected property owners soon.
–The Park Rapids Enterprise

 Climate:  No progress since Copenhagen
With wounds still raw from the chaotic United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December, negotiators are making final preparations for next month’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in a surly mood and with little hope for progress.

 There is no chance of completing a binding global treaty to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases, few if any heads of state are planning to attend, and there are no major new initiatives on the agenda.

 Copenhagen was crippled by an excess of expectation. Cancún is suffering from the opposite.

 Delegates in Tianjin, China, at the last formal meeting before the Cancún conference opens Nov. 29, are hung up over the same issues that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen meeting. Even some of the baby steps in the weak agreement that emerged from last year’s meeting, a slender document known as the Copenhagen Accord, have been reopened, to the dismay of officials who thought they had been settled.
–The New York Times

 Swackhamer to lecture on water
Nationally recognized freshwater expert and environmental chemist Deborah Swackhamer will deliver the University of Minnesota’s annual Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4. The lecture will be at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium, 301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.

 Swackhamer’s lecture, “Drop by Drop: Everyday Solutions to Toxic Water,” will address the threats facing our freshwater resources and the achievements we’ve made in turning the tide toward sustainability.

From the loss of natural buffers and filters such as wetlands, to the introduction of endocrines and industry and consumer-induced toxins, the planet’s rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater reserves are under increasing stress. The good news is that concern for our finite water supply is beginning to take center stage in town halls and legislative chambers. Swackhamer will also offer an update on Minnesota’s 25-year plan for a sustainable water future.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Higher rivers suggest global warming
Rainfall is intensifying, rivers are rising and water flow into the ocean is increasing rapidly, a new UC Irvine study shows — a possible “warning sign” of higher sea levels and global warming.

 Satellite and surface measurements over 13 years revealed an 18 percent increase in the flow of water from rivers and melting polar ice sheets into the world’s oceans, according to the study, likely one of the first of its kind, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 ”Those are all key indications of what we call water-cycle acceleration,” said Jay Famiglietti, a UC Irvine Earth System Science professor and lead investigator on the study. “That is a very important and anticipated outcome of climate change.”

 Planetary warming includes higher ocean temperatures, which increase evaporation; higher air temperatures drive more evaporation as well, Famiglietti said.

 That means more fuel for monsoons, hurricanes and storms over land.
–The Orange County Register

 White House to get solar panels
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans to install solar panels on the White House roof, kicking off a three-day federal symposium focused on targeting sustainability efforts throughout the federal government.

 ”Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu told an audience of federal employees. “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.” 

The Department of Energy aims to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater by the end of next spring as part of a demonstration project showcasing the availability and reliability of the country’s solar technologies. In a press release, DOE officials emphasized the growing industry and the availability of tax credits for those who install panels.

The news comes less than a month after environmentalist Bill McKibben led a rally demanding that President Obama install solar panels and presenting White House officials with a solar panel from former President Carter’s White House.
–The New York Times

 Research: Genetically modified corn benefits non-GMO crop
Transgenic corn’s resistance to pests has benefitted even non-transgenic corn, a new study led by scientists from the University of Minnesota shows.

The study, published in the Oct. 8 edition of the journal Science, found that widespread planting of genetically modified Bt corn throughout the Upper Midwest has suppressed populations of the European corn borer, historically one of corn’s primary pests. This areawide suppression has dramatically reduced the estimated $1 billion in annual losses caused by the European corn borer, even on non-genetically modified corn. Bt corn, introduced in 1996, is so named because it has been bred to produce a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills insect pests.

Corn borer moths cannot distinguish between Bt and non-Bt corn, so females lay eggs in both kinds of fields, said the study’s chief author, University of Minnesota entomology professor William Hutchison. Once eggs hatch in Bt corn, young borer larvae feed and die within 24 to 48 hours. Because it is effective at controlling corn borers and other pests, Bt corn has been adopted on about 63 percent of all U.S. corn acres.
--University of Minnesota News Release

L.A. archdiocese pursues sustainability
God created earth and said, “Let there be light.”

 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles created an enviro-friendly committee that says, let’s make sure that light comes from energy-efficient bulbs.

 Hoping to lead its 5 million parishioners toward conservation, the archdiocese this week announced it wants all of its 288 churches to go as green as, well St. Jude’s robe.

“The foundation of our approach to the environment is Gospel-based,” said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese. “The question for us is, `How do the commandments to love God and neighbor find expression in our relationship to the environment?”‘

The newly formed Creation Sustainability Ministry, a committee of community members and environmentalists, has been charged with guiding parishes into sustainability.
–The Los Angeles Daily News

Tennessee gov. opposes mountain-top mining
For the first time a state government has submitted a petition to the federal government to set aside state-owned mountain ridgelines as unsuitable for coal surface mining.

 Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and the state of Tennessee filed a petition with the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, asking that the agency initiate a study and public dialogue on the suitability of state-owned lands in the Northern Cumberland Plateau for surface mining, also called mountaintop removal mining.

 Much of the 500 miles of ridgeline covered by the petition is part of Tennessee’s 2007 Connecting the Cumberlands conservation initiative and is located in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties.

 ”These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities,” said Governor Bredesen. “This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources.”
–Environmental News Service

 EPA issues drinking water sustainability plan
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy as part of its efforts to promote sustainable infrastructure within the water sector.

 The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy emphasizes the need to build on existing efforts to promote sustainable water infrastructure, working with states and water systems to employ robust, comprehensive planning processes to deliver projects that are cost effective over their life cycle, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals. The policy encourages communities to develop sustainable systems that employ effective utility management practices to build and maintain the level of technical, financial, and managerial capacity necessary to ensure long-term sustainability. 

 Download the Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy (PDF).
–EPA News Release 

 Red River flood-relief levee welcomes ducks
The fields of soybeans, corn and sugar beets in the Red River valley are crisscrossed by a network of ditches built and rebuilt by farmers and the government to speed spring runoff and plant crops early. 

Early planting makes for a better harvest, but rapid spring runoff increases flooding for cities downstream.

“The trick is to strike that balance,” said Jon Roeschlien, administrator for Bois de Sioux watershed district. “How do we balance [agricultural] drainage and flood protection?”

Roeschlien, who oversaw construction of what’s called the North Ottawa project, thinks he has the answer. 

The permanent levee completed last year surrounds three square miles of farmland about 20 miles south of Breckenridge. Essentially, it’s a shallow man-made lake holds all of the spring runoff from 75 square miles upstream. Gates can release the water slowly after the spring flood passes. 

Roeschlin said the $19 million project in the southern Red River valley is a bargain, given the flood damage it eliminates downstream. It also will create much needed wildlife habitat.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Dubuque launches water sustainability pilot
IBM and the City of Dubuque, Iowa, announced the launch of the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study.

  Dubuque is in the process of installing smart water meters throughout the city.  Initially 300 volunteer citizens in Dubuque have joined the program to understand water consumption and conservation.  Over the next several months, data will be collected and analyzed, providing information and insight on consumption trends and patterns that will enable both the volunteers and city management to conserve water and lower costs.

The study’s goal is to demonstrate how informed and engaged citizens can help make their city sustainable. By providing citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption, the project will encourage behavior changes resulting in conservation, cost reduction and leak repair. 

Dubuque has implemented a city-wide water meter upgrade project and has worked with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer. This locally manufactured device is designed to augment the water meter in providing the most accurate measurement possible during low-flow use. The new system will allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings.
–IBM and City of Dubuque News Release

 

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Ground disposal of effluent proposed

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.

Comment sought on ground disposal of sewage effluent
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on the proposed construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Bethel that would put treated effluent into the ground.

 The proposal is part of a plan to install sewers in the fast-growing community that now is mostly served by private septic systems.

 Under the plan from Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, about 420,000 gallons per day of effluent would flow  into two shallow earthen basins, where the effluent then would drain into the ground. Sewage entering the plant would be treated and filtered to produce effluent that would be higher quality than  the water discharged from other Metropolitan Council treatment plants.

 Jim Roth, the Metropolitan Council engineer overseeing the project, said the effluent would go into a shallow aquifer that is separated by a layer of silty till material from a deeper sand aquifer that supplies water to private wells in the area. 

Details of the project are spelled out in an environmental assessment worksheet prepared by the Pollution Control Agency. The agency is seeking public comment on that document before determining if a more comprehensive environmental review will be conducted. Comments are due by Sept. 8.

 Questions about the project can be directed to Nancy Drach at 651-757-2317 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.  

Pawlenty rejects DNR shoreline rules
Minnesota regulators spent years devising more protective shore land and dock rules to guide new development along state lakes.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent them back to the drawing board, rejecting their revisions as “overreaching” and as undermining local control and property rights. He suggested the Legislature take up the matter next winter. 

“The rules you forwarded to me regarding these issues do not strike a proper balance between protection of our lakes and waterways and the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property,” Pawlenty wrote in a letter to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten. 

Pawlenty’s decision means decades-old standards for lakeshore construction and docks that are commonly considered out of date will be around a good while longer. If the governor had accepted the draft changes, a public hearing process would have begun soon, and new standards could have been in place next year.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Study seeks pollution hot spots for Woodbury lakes
Two Woodbury lakes are being targeted for an experimental cleanup approach this summer.

Officials are using what’s called “subwatershed assessment” on Powers and Carver lakes and other lakes across the metro area, according to Jay Riggs, manager of the Washington Conservation District.

 ”This is really cutting-edge,” Riggs said. “We are trying to identify which practices to put into place.”

The technique combines old and new technologies to find the sources of runoff pollution around a lake and the cheapest way to stop them.

 Aerial photos and specialized computer software are used to identify problem areas. Then one- to three-block areas are mapped out, and homeowners are given suggestions for cutting runoff pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Wind turbines planned near Manhattan
For years, New York officials have envisioned powering the region from a set of huge wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. But well before an offshore wind farm would be up and running, giant turbines may soon be spinning much closer to the city.

Within three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hopes to have five wind towers, each more than 280 feet tall, operating on the west side of New York Harbor. Nearby, the City of Bayonne, N.J., plans to install an equally large turbine to power a sewage-pumping station. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering placing wind turbines on or near its hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
–The New York Times

Anglers’ felt soles spread invasives
For fly fishers who pride themselves on a conservationist ethic, it hurts to discover that they may be trampling on that ethic every time they wade into a trout stream. 

Blame their boots — or, more precisely, their felt soles. Growing scientific evidence suggests that felt, which helps anglers stay upright on slick rocks, is also a vehicle for noxious microorganisms that hitchhike to new places and disrupt freshwater ecosystems. 

That is why Alaska and Vermont recently approved bans on felt-soled boots and Maryland plans to do so soon.
–The New York Times 

Satellites to track migrating loons
Ten common loons are now sporting satellite transmitters so researchers can study the migratory movements and feeding patterns of these remarkable fish-eating waterbirds as they migrate through the Great Lakes toward their winter homes farther south. 

By using satellite tracking devices implanted in the loons from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Geological Survey scientists expect to learn essential information about avian botulism needed by managers to develop important conservation strategies for the loon species.  

“This study will also help managers better understand how loons fare as they head to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts,” said USGS scientist Kevin Kenow, of the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Cross, WI. “Right now, little is known about habitat use along their entire migratory routes.” 

In addition to the loons with satellite transmitters, about 70 other loons will have geolocator tags, which will record daily location, temperature, light levels and water-pressure data that will log the foraging depths of these diving birds. 

Movement of loons from previous studies using satellite transmitters can be followed online.  Loon movements from the current study will be available later this summer. To see a video on the project, click here.
–USGS News Release 

Origin of Chicago’s Asian carp murky
In the wake of a government news release that pointed a finger at humans for planting an Asian carp near Lake Michigan, facts are coming to light that indicate Illinois officials may have stretched their own science to sell a whopper of a fish tale. 

When netting crews hunting for Asian carp above an electric barrier on the Chicago canal system in June pulled a three-foot long, 20-pound mature bighead carp from Lake Calumet – just six miles south of Lake Michigan – the question was: How did it get there? 

If it swam on its own, that would spell trouble for Lake Michigan because it could indicate that the electric fish barrier about 35 miles downstream from the lake was not doing its job, and more fish had perhaps breached this last line of defense.

If it were determined that the fish got there with human help, then it could more easily be explained as an isolated find, and not evidence that additional steps should be taken on the canal system to protect the Great Lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Michigan spill feeds pipeline opposition
Environmental groups and landowners, upset by last month’s oil spill in Michigan, are urging the Obama administration to deny a proposal for an oil pipeline that would go from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Alberta-based TransCanada’s proposed 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline would link up with its existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline, which began operations in June, and go through Montana, South Dakota,  Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

 Opponents say last month’s spill underscored the dangers of the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline ruptured on July 25 and spilled nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. 

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the Keystone XL project even before the Michigan spill, but the incident has increased scrutiny and elevated concerns.
–USA Today

UN chief urges multiple, small steps on climate
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said that he doubted that member states would reach a new global climate change agreement in December at a conference in Mexico. 

Mr. Ban, who was the head cheerleader for reaching a deal during the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, suggested that a better approach might consist of small steps in separate fields that built toward wider consensus rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.

 “Climate change, I think, has been making progress, even though we have not reached such a point where we will have a globally agreed, comprehensive deal,” Mr. Ban said at a news conference.
–The New York Times 

 Mercury limits set for cement industry
The Environmental Protection Agency set the first limits for mercury emissions from cement factories. The rules will cut mercury emissions and particulate matter 92 percent a year starting in 2013, the agency said. Manufacture of Portland cement, the type most widely used, is the third-biggest source of mercury air pollution in the country, the agency said. Mercury, which can harm childhood development of the brain and is linked to asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, is released when cement components are heated in a kiln, according to agency documents. The EPA estimated that the rules would yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in environmental and health benefits and cost companies as much as $950 million a year.
–Bloomberg News Service

Save a reef, saute a lionfish
If you can’t beat it, eat it. That’s the edict coming from scientists who are trying to combat the spread of invasive lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 

A native of South Pacific and Indian Oceans and popular aquarium specimen, lionfish were likely released off Florida back in the 1980s and have since spread as far as North Carolina and South America.

Brilliant maroon with a “mane” of long, venomous spines, the lionfish is a voracious eater, with no match to its predatory prowess in foreign territory. Scientists fear its rapid reproduction and aggressive appetite will pummel already overfished native stocks of snapper and grouper because they compete for the same food. The spiny swimmers might also dine on algae-eating parrot fish, causing algae to grow out of control and cover reefs.

  The American appetite for seafood may be the best hope against the interloper. Thus the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) has partnered with chefs and spear fishermen to launch an Eat Lionfish Campaign. Fortunately, the lionfish is said to be scrumptious: a delicate white fish rivaling the taste of grouper and snapper.
– Audubon Magazine

White Bear Lake hits record low
The parched state of the lake is an everyday topic in the city of White Bear Lake. 

The lake recently hit a record low — more than 5 feet below its normal level — and residents are trying to figure out how to refill the 2,200-acre body of water. 

“It’s the talk of the town,” said Mike Parenteau, a board member for the lake’s conservation district.

His group recently accepted a $5,000 grant from the White Bear Lake Homeowners Association to study recharge possibilities. 

And while White Bear Lake residents fret, folks a few miles west in Shoreview are marveling at Snail Lake’s rebound. Last summer, the 150-acre lake was 5 feet below its normal level, too, but in the past four months, it has risen almost 4 feet.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 California delays vote on $11.1 billion water bond
California lawmakers have voted to delay putting an $11.1 billion water bond to voters, extending a battle to rework the biggest effort in decades to upgrade the state’s water system.

The legislators also agreed to lengthen the terms of California’s nine water commissioners appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a change that some critics of the governor say could give him influence over the direction of the state’s water projects after leaving office in January. The commissioners’ terms would have ended at a various times over the next few years; they will now all hold their positions until May 2014.

 The postponement — approved by narrow majorities in both statehouse chambers — is part of a broader struggle to improve California’s ailing water system. The Golden State’s frequent droughts and growing population place special demands on an aging water system, which itself causes major environmental damage.

 The bond, part of a set of water-related bills approved by the legislature last year, is a test case for how well California can balance environmental concerns with water demand from farmers, consumers and businesses. The bills called for projects including ecosystem restoration, water conservation, groundwater monitoring and construction of water storage, such as dams and reservoirs.

Some of those projects are moving forward, but the bond requires the approval of California’s voters. Lawmakers agreed to move that vote from Election Day in November to 2012, due to fears that voters would reject the measure.
–The Wall Street Journal

Mexico, U.S. in talks on water storage
The powerful earthquake that rattled Mexicali, Mexico, on Easter Sunday also has stirred serious international talks over the future of the Colorado River, the Las Vegas Valley’s primary water source.

Federal officials from the United States and Mexico met at the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s office in downtown Las Vegas to discuss a shortage and water-sharing agreement between the two nations.

The talks have been ongoing since early 2008, but the 7.2 magnitude quake on April 4 seemed to create more urgency on the Mexican side because widespread infrastructure damage might prevent that nation from using its full Colorado River allocation.

 Lorri Gray-Lee has been taking part in the discussions as director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region.

 She said Mexico wants to be able to store a part of its annual river allocation in Lake Mead for future use once the earthquake damage has been repaired.
–Las Vegas Review-Journal

Huge California solar complex proposed
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.

But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity. 

Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. 

At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
–The New York Times

China struggles with environmental challenges
This year, China will leapfrog Japan to become the second-biggest economy on Earth, behind only the USA, predicts Ting Lu, a China economist with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Next month, China starts broadcasts on CNN and other networks of an image-boosting commercial featuring stars such as basketballer Yao Ming and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. 

Back at ground level, though, in what remains a developing country, China’s people and government are struggling to deal with a series of natural disasters that some environmentalists believe are the deadly, man-made consequences of favoring economic growth over environmental protection. 

The latest tragedy occurred when heavy rain triggered landslides that blocked a river in Zhouqu County, an ethnically Tibetan area in northwestern Gansu province, forcing floodwater to sweep through the county seat.
–USA Today

 MPCA levies $45,000 pollution penalty
Universal Circuits, which operates a Maple Grove circuit-board-manufacturing plant, has agreed to pay a $45,000 penalty for alleged environmental violations.

 The alleged violations were discovered in 2007 and 2008, during inspections by Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services staff.  Hennepin County referred the violations to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for enforcement. 

The manufacturing process at Universal Circuits’ Maple Grove facility uses hazardous materials and generates hazardous wastes containing or including sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid and several other corrosive etching and cleaning chemicals; solvent waste containing xylene; and copper, lead, cyanide-containing and other wastes. 

 During their inspections of the facility, Hennepin County staff documented conditions indicating that Universal Circuits had failed to recover spilled hazardous wastes as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. Hennepin County staff also documented that industrial waste or other pollutants had breached a trench inside the building, resulting in a discharge from the facility to the soil.

 The company has since corrected all alleged violations.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA takes on eight Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against eight beef feedlot operations in northwest Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations into the region’s rivers and streams.

All eight of the most recent enforcement actions involve administrative compliance orders issued to medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which are feedlots that confine between 300 and 999 cattle and whose discharge is facilitated by a man-made conveyance.
–EPA Region 7 News Release

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Gulf may see a record ‘dead zone’

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.

Gulf ‘dead zone’ is one of the biggest
The annual Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” – a low-oxygen region of seawater that appears each spring and summer and either snuffs marine life or sends it fleeing – is one of the largest on record this year.

That’s the assessment of a team of scientists who wrapped up a cruise to take the dead zone’s measure. This year it’s roughly the size of Massachusetts and stretches from off of Galveston, Tex., east to the Mississippi’s “bird’s foot” delta.

The patch off of Texas is particularly noteworthy, says Nancy Rabalais, a marine scientist and director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dr. Rabalais heads the annual survey effort.

 This year’s is the largest oxygen-deprived area seen off of the Texas coast since she and her team began conducting the surveys in 1985, she says. Indeed, the dead zone’s “total area probably would have been the largest if we had had enough time to completely map the western part.” 

The dead zone forms each spring and summer as snowmelt and rainfall in the Mississippi River’s vast drainage basin leach nutrients from farm fields and to a lesser extent from urban landscapes along the river and its tributaries.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 U.S. environmental officials seek Minnesota input
Lisa Jackson, the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and top officials of other federal agencies with responsibility for the environment came to the Twin Citites on Aug. 4 for a “listening session” seeking citizen input as the Obama administration plans a new national agenda for conservation.

 In a meeting at the University of Minnesota that was attended by about 300 people, the administration officials asked for suggestions on four topics:

  • What is working well in promoting conservation and outdoor recreation?
  •  What obstacles keep people from connecting with the outdoors?
  • How can the federal government be a more effective partner with state and local groups working on conservation?
  •  What additional tools would help the state and local organizations?

 Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the listening session and the officials’ visit to Minnesota. For more information about the national initiative, or to submit on-line comments, click here.

 Chicago’s Asian carp may have been put there
A 3-foot-long Asian carp discovered in a Chicago waterway near Lake Michigan appears to have spent most of its life there and may have been planted by humans who didn’t know what type of fish it was or the environmental risk it posed, researchers said.
Tests of chemical markers in the bighead carp suggest it was not a recent arrival to the waterway and probably did not get there by evading an electric barrier meant to prevent the species from infesting the Great Lakes, said Jim Garvey, a fisheries biologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

He acknowledged the findings were not certain because of incomplete data and were based on a number of assumptions.
–The Associated Press 

Scientists question rosy assessment of Gulf spill
The “greatest environmental disaster” in U.S. history — which has appeared at times to leave a high-control White House powerless — seemed to have lost its power to scare.

A few hours after BP’s well was declared virtually dead, the Obama administration announced that only about 26 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was unaccounted for.

“A significant amount of this,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts.”

But, in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.
–The Washington Post

 DNR sues over lakeshore set-back variance
As more homes creep closer to Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lakeshore, the state Department of Natural Resources is pushing back by suing a western Minnesota township that allowed a property owner to build a house 14 feet from Ida Lake. The rare move could signal a new statewide emphasis on controlling building on waterfront land.

 ”This is a shot across the bow on the part of DNR,” said Brad Karkkainen, an environmental law expert at the University of Minnesota.

 Karkkainen said the new suit against Cormorant Township will send a message to localities that are allowing more buildings — often expansive vacation homes — that exceed state standards for size and distance from the water’s edge and create polluting stormwater runoff. “The importance of the suit,” he said, “is in setting a policy precedent that DNR will use state resources to prosecute.”
–The Star Tribune

Water study probes DEET insect repellent
DEET may be safe to spray on your skin, but not to swallow in drinking water.

To see how safe or unsafe it is, the Minnesota Department of Health has picked the popular insect repellent ingredient as the first of seven “chemicals of emerging concern” to assess during the next year. 

“We shower, it goes down the drain, and it ends up in wastewater that goes into rivers,” said state toxicologist Helen Goeden. 

Like many compounds, there are no state or federal standards for DEET, yet it has been detected in water samples nationwide, including Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Huge Everglades restoration keeps shrinking
For the third and likely last time, Gov. Charlie’s Crist’s controversial Big Sugar deal is being dramatically downsized.

With their budget squeezed by a brutal economy and two major legal defeats, South Florida water managers have proposed yet another major whack at a land buy once so bold and bright that environmentalists touted it as the holy grail of Everglades restoration: Buy out the entire U.S. Sugar Corp. — lock, stock and all 180,000-plus acres — for $1.75 billion and convert much of the massive swath of farms into water storage and cleanup projects. 

The fragments now left on the table: $197 million cash for 26,800 acres, most of it citrus groves, and “options” to buy the rest at $7,400 an acre over the next three years or at market price over the next decade.
–The Miami Herald 

Scientists probe California estuary
Scientists tasked with unraveling one of the nation’s most vexing environmental puzzles started their first field trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at a fish processing facility here near one of the estuary’s major water-pumping stations. 

Assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists — 15 experts in estuarine ecology, hydrology, fisheries science and water resources engineering — were gathering information for a series of reports that could influence management of the West Coast’s largest estuary for decades to come.

The stakes for the two-year study are high. All around the delta, demand for water is growing — water for endangered fish, for farms and for 25 million people. Political pressure from California’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and others finally forced the White House to order the review this spring.
–The New York Times
 

Florida contest saves tons of water
Gary and Linda Rogers are turning blue into green. 

The Cooper City couple saved $117 by reducing their water usage by 27,000 gallons in just three months. 

They weren’t the only ones. 

When the city’s utilities department issued a three-month water conservation challenge, 12 teams of Cooper City homeowners signed on. The competition pitted two local homeowners’ associations — the Homes at Forest Lake and Reflections at Rock Creek — to see who could save the most water. 

“Water conservation is not a new concept. We just wanted to make it more visible and try to engage folks a little more,” said Mike Bailey, director of utilities.
–The Miami Herald 

Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
Worried about tapping out their wells and the possible risk of pollution, nearly a dozen Lake County communities have pushed a plan to allow them to draw their water from Lake Michigan.

The $252 million proposal, which needs approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, calls for pumping water from a proposed new treatment plant at Zion and running it through 57 miles of new pipelines.

Towns involved in the project now get their water from wells that tap into an aquifer in the bedrock. Some communities are running low, officials say.

“We’re seeing severe depletion,” said Matt Formica, Lindenhurst village administrator. The village has nine functioning shallow wells. “Two are on their last legs. We have to do something. … We’re running out of water.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Invasive spiny waterfleas spread to Burntside L.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed that spiny waterfleas were discovered in Burntside Lake near Ely recently. They were discovered by an angler when he observed them collecting on fishing lines in the water.

 “Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR invasive species specialist. “Although the waterfleas can die between fishing trips, they might be carrying resting eggs that can begin a new infestation.” 

Spiny waterfleas are currently found in Lake Superior, Mille Lacs Lake, Fish Lake, and the U.S.-Canadian border waters such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake as well as lakes on the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marias.

 Spiny waterfleas can collect in masses, entangling on fishing lines, downrigger cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only one-fourth to five-eighths inch long.

 Experts believe spiny waterfleas originally arrived in the U.S. from Eurasia in the ballast water of cargo ships. They were first found in Lake Superior in 1987.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Research: Gulf oil dispersants not likely to be EDCs
Government researchers are reporting that eight of the most commonly used oil dispersants used to fight oil spills, such as those being used in the Gulf of Mexico, appear unlikely to act as endocrine disruptors.

More than 1.5 million gallons of oil spill dispersants — a combination of one or more surfactants with the ability to emulsify oil and a hydrocarbon-based solvent to break up large clumps of high molecular weight — have been used recently in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The NIH and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study to measure the potential for endocrine disruption with eight oil spill dispersants. The researchers applied a rapid screening method using mammalian cells to determine the eight dispersants’ potential to act as endocrine disruptors and relative toxicity to living cells.

The tested dispersants also had a relatively low potential for cytotoxicity with JD-2000 and SAF-RON GOLD showing the least potential. Cytotoxicity was not seen until dispersants were tested at concentrations above 10 parts per million, according to the researchers.
–Edocrine Today

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