nitrate

Nitrate pollution still rising

Last week, U.S. Geological Survey scientists provided an update on 30 years of water quality tests that show a continuing increase in nitrate pollution at many points on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Overall, nitrate levels in the river increased 14 percent from 1980 through 2010.

Increases were greater in the upper reaches of the Mississippi, including Minnesota. Read a National Geographic report on the briefing.

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Nitrate taints St. Peter groundwater

A  Minnesota Public Radio report this week looked at the complicated – and costly – process the City of St. Peter uses to remove nitrate from city water. The nitrate mostly comes from fertilizers applied by farmers. The radio report says the water would be cleaner if farmers planted more alfalfa and less corn and soybeans. Read the MPR report. Read a recent Minnesota Department of Agriculture draft of a nitrogen fertilizer management plan.

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Nitrogen flush headed for Gulf

Last summer’s drought in the big parts of the Midwest stunted crops and left lots of nitrogen fertilizer – much of which normally would have been taken up by plants and converted to grain — in the soil of farm fields. This year’s wet spring flushed lots of that leftover nitrogen down the Mississippi River. Read an article from the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Gazette about an effort to monitor that pollution headed for the Gulf of Mexico.

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Cover crops work, users say

Cover crops – typically grasses sowed into corn and soybean fields after the fall harvest – could reduce nitrogen losses to Minnesota streams and rivers by 10 percent if the cover crops were widely adopted by farmers across the state, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report estimated in late June.

Read an agriculture.com report on a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored survey of Corn Belt farmers who used cover crops last year. The survey respondents reported increased profitability for their corn and soybean acres during the 2012 drought.

Learn more about the survey and download the report.

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Major report documents extent of Minnesota nitrate pollution

Nitrate  – much of it from fertilizers applied to farmland – pollutes many Minnesota rivers and streams and contributes to the oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, a new report from the state’s Pollution Control Agency concludes.

Excess nitrate is toxic to fish and the aquatic life food chain and potentially harmful to humans in drinking water.

The report, released Wednesday, June 26, was based on analysis of more than 50,000 water samples, and is the most exhaustive study ever conducted on nitrate pollution in Minnesota. Scientists and regulators have long known that nitrate pollution was a serious problem in lakes and streams and in groundwater.

The new report found a substantial number of streams in which nitrate levels exceeded the health limit set for drinking water. Between 2000 and 2010, the health standard — 10 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water – was exceeded in some sampling in 27 percent of the sites where water was tested.

Read an executive summary of the report and an accompanying fact sheet. Download the full 444-page report. View video of a news conference to release the report. Read a news release from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership praising the report and calling for state action to reduce the nitrate pollution.

Nitrate levels in northern Minnesota are relatively low, but much higher in the southern and southeastern parts of the states, according to the report.

The report estimated that cropland agriculture is the source of 70 percent of nitrate in the state’s surface waters. In intensively farmed areas of the state, including the Minnesota River Valley, cropland accounts for 89 percent to 95 percent of the nitrate loads.

In a news release, Minnesota Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine said: “I believe Minnesota farmers are committed to conservation, stewardship and water quality protection, but collectively too much nitrate is ending up in streams and rivers. We have to do better.”

During a year with average rainfall and average river levels, about 158 million pounds of nitrate flow down the Mississippi to the Gulf.

The report estimated that 37 percent of the nitrogen flowing to surface waters across the state is routed through tile drainage systems, and another 30 percent goes from the land’s surface into groundwater that then is discharged to surface waters.

Point sources, such as sewage treatment plants, account for only 9 percent, and urban storm water makes up only 1 percent of the total, according to the estimate.

Can Minnesota substantially reduce the nitrate in its surface waters? Yes, but it won’t be easy, the report says.

The executive summary of the report summarizes the results of modeling on what it would take to achieve a 30 percent to 35 percent reduction in cropland losses of nitrate:

  • Ninety percent of the state’s corn fields would be fertilized at optimum rates, with the fertilizer applied in the spring.
  • Perennial plants would be grown in 100-foot-wide buffer strips along most streams.
  • All tile drainage water would be reduced in volume or routed through wetlands or pits filled with wood chips to remove the nitrogen.
  • Rye cover crops would be planted on most corn and soybean acreage to use nitrogen when the corn and soybeans are not growing.
  • Row crops would be replaced by perennials on marginal land.

The net cost of all those changes in practices and infrastructure would be more than $1 billion per year, the report estimated.

 

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Fertilizers pollute ground, surface waters

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

Report analyzes pollution from fertilizers
The Environmental Working Group has issued a 54-page report on the pollution of ground and surface waters caused by nitrogen and phosphorus, two major farm fertilizers.

The report, “Troubled Waters: Farm Pollution Threatens Drinking Water,” looked at the problem in four Midwest corn belt states – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Both nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to the oxygen-deprived “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen also has a health risk for humans, especially for infants, when it leaches into drinking water drawn from shallow wells. Phosphorus in lakes feeds algae blooms that can be a deterrent to recreation and sometimes a health threat.

The report quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that removing nitrate from drinking water costs nearly $5 billion a year. According to the report, nitrate levels in Minnesota streams are eight times natural background levels, and phosphorus levels are five times background levels.

The also report quotes data from a Minnesota Department of Agriculture voluntary testing program that evaluated water from 9,700 wells between 1995 and 1998. In those tests, 9 percent of drilled wells had nitrate in excess of the human health standard, 16 percent of sandpoint wells had nitrate that exceeded the health standard, and 40 percent of the relatively few dug wells that were tested had nitrates in excess of the standard. A Minnesota Health Department survey of randomly selected private wells in the 1990s found about 6 percent had nitrate levels that exceeded the health standard.

Read the Environmental Working Group report. Read a Star Tribune article about the report. Read a Des Moines Register article on it. Read an agriculture.com article on it.  View the  Minnesota Department of Agriculture web page reporting data on well contamination and offering advice on water testing for owners of private wells.

View video of Craig A. Cox, one of the authors of the Environmental Working Group report, delivering a February 2011 lecture, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Cox’s lecture was titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production.”

Research: Migrating loons visit L. Michigan
At least six of the 29 loons that have had radio and satellite telemetry devices placed in them by researchers have returned to their breeding lakes in Minnesota as of April 11, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

One of the loons, known as “M2,” returned to Big Mantrap Lake in northern Minnesota March 29.

“This is a very exciting time in science exploration,” said Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program. “We have been able to learn more about our fabulous state bird than we have ever known before.”

During the last two years, the loons were equipped with satellite transmitters in an effort to study their migratory movements and foraging patterns while migrating.

Most of the loons that are part of this research project left Minnesota in October and spent about a month on Lake Michigan before departing for the Gulf of Mexico in early December.
–DNR News Release

Rules tightened on antibiotics for livestock 
Farmers and ranchers will for the first time be required to get a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals, federal food regulators announced. Officials hope the move will slow the indiscriminate use of the drugs, which has made them increasingly ineffective in humans.

The Food and Drug Administration has been taking small steps to try to curb the use of antibiotics on farms, but federal officials said that requiring prescriptions would lead to meaningful reductions in the agricultural use of antibiotics, which are given to promote animal growth. The drug resistance that has developed from that practice has been a growing problem for years and has rendered a number of antibiotics used in humans less and less effective, with deadly consequences.

Initially, the F.D.A. is asking drug makers to voluntarily change their labels to require a prescription; federal officials said that drug makers had largely agreed to the change.
–The New York Times

GAO: U.S. could save $1 billion on crop insurance 
The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending. Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.
–The New York Times

Maps spur interest in protecting Le Sueur River 
A “map party” may not sound like a rousing way to kick off the formation of a citizen-led movement to improve the Le Sueur River.

But as people filed into the Pemberton Community Center for an informal open house, they eagerly pored over a variety of maps of the area — historic maps from the early 1900s to high-tech maps showing crisp aerial views and maps created with cutting-edge imaging showing erosion of bluffs over time.

The event was the first step in trying to get residents in the watershed to focus on a river that is one of the biggest contributors of sediment into the Minnesota River — sediment that is rapidly filling in Lake Pepin on the Mississippi and leading to growing calls for action.

Patrick Moore, the leader of Clean Up the River Environment or CURE, said bringing together the seemingly endless number of maps created by state and federal agencies grew out of a comment by Blue Earth County’s land use planner, Julie Conrad.
–The Mankato Free Press

Zebra mussel shells clog Lake Winnebago 
For some area residents on the lakeshore, it’s like something out of a bad horror movie. No matter what they try, the bogeyman keeps regenerating itself.

In this case, the monster is a barrier of zebra mussel shells that pile up and stretch across an inlet to Lake Winnebago on the lakeshore property of the Jesuit Retreat House in the Town of Black Wolf.

Chuck Linde, facilities manager for the retreat house, estimates there is about 12 dump trucks’ worth of mussels in the lake inlet, next to an island just off the shore. “It’s created a landmass,” Linde said. “It bridges the gap between the island and our property.” –The Oshkosh Northwestern

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Zebra mussels in court; water conflicts loom

The Freshwater Society blog 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.

West Metro zebra mussel fight goes to court
The ice went out on Christmas Lake, and soon a new gate will go up at its only public boat ramp, signaling the start of what may be the most contentious boating season yet in Minnesota’s two-decade fight over zebra mussels and other invasive species.

The gate, installed in November, is more than a method to keep invasive species out of one of the most pristine and exclusive lakes in the metro area. Some see it as a challenge to individual privacy and a virtual Minnesota birthright — unfettered access to any lake or river in the state.

Those two imperatives — protecting the lakes and keeping them open to all — are at the heart of a lawsuit filed last week by three west-metro lake associations against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The associations claim the state has failed to devise a comprehensive plan against invasive species and has thwarted their efforts to protect the lakes they treasure.
–The Star Tribune

Intelligence report: Water conflicts possible 
The American intelligence community warned in a report that problems with water could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade.

Increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions, the report concludes.

Prepared at the request of the State Department, the report is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last October that reflected an increasing focus on environmental and other factors that threaten security. An estimate reflects the consensus judgment of all intelligence agencies.
–The New York Times

Save these dates:

 March 29. The Freshwater hosts a conference on precision conservation, the science and philosophy of putting conservation practices into place at spots on the landscape where are most  effective and provide the most return on investment. Learn more.  April 12. The Freshwater Society’s Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser celebrates spring.  The event will be from 5:30 to 8;30 p.m. at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. There will be music, food, a silent auction and – where else can you find this? – a loon-calling contest.

Medicine drop box

Medicine drop box

Hennepin County accepts unneeded drugs
Prescription and non-prescription drugs are a significant source of water pollution. Don’t flush them down the toilet or pour them down a sink. Hennepin County has installed self-service drop boxes for unneeded and outdated drugs in a number of places throughout the county.

Learn more about where you can find the drop boxes and what you can – and cannot – dispose of in them.

Eden Prairie backs water conservation 
Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens is asking residents to join the “Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.” It is a friendly, online competition between residents of cities across the nation to see who can be the most “water-wise.

All residents have to do is log on to mywaterpledge.com and make an online pledge on behalf of Eden Prairie. By making the pledge, residents promise to follow a series of conservation measures for their homes, yards and cars, things like washing only full loads of laundry, fixing leaky faucets and walking or biking short distances.
–KSTP-TV

Iowa State offers advice on nitrate loss 
As Corn Belt farmers face challenges to reduce nitrate loss in surface and groundwater by 40-45%, Iowa State University (ISU) research confirms what many growers fear: “The right application of nitrogen (N) is [just] the first step,” says Matt Helmers, ISU associate professor, agricultural and biosystems engineering.
–Corn and Soybean Digest

Research: Fracking causes air pollution
People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new Colorado study.

The University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health analysis is one of a string of studies in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado that highlight the air-quality impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. “Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural-gas development that has focused largely on water,” said Lisa McKenzie, the study’s lead author.

The analysis found volatile organic chemicals at five times the level below which the emissions are considered unlikely to cause health problems, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazard Index.
–The Denver Post

Metro-outstate fight looms on park funding
 A bitter battle is brewing between park agencies in the Twin Cities and in outstate Minnesota over how much each should get from the nearly $40 million state Parks and Trails Legacy Fund.

More than 60 percent of the sales tax money comes from the seven-county metro area, but only about 40 percent is being used for parks and trails there. The rest goes to the state Department of Natural Resources and to regionally important parks and trails outstate.

“This wasn’t a fund just created for outstate parks, for gosh sakes,” said Carver Commissioner Tom Workman, who used to serve in the Legislature. “We’ve got to take a stand here.”

Carver County and nine other county and local governments with metro regional parks want a bigger piece of the pie. So far, three metro cities and three county boards have passed identical resolutions, including Carver County and Bloomington’s City Council.  –The Star Tribune

Sturgeon recovering in Lake of the Woods
Lake sturgeon populations in both the United States and Canadian waters of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River have met short-term recovery goals, and fisheries managers now are setting their sights on the long term.

“The Rainy River-Lake of the Woods population is probably one of the most robust, healthiest recovering populations of lake sturgeon in North America,” said Tom Mosindy, fisheries assessment biologist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in Kenora, Ont. “It’s definitely a good news story.”

Mosindy is chairman of the Border Waters Sturgeon Management Committee, which includes representatives from the MNR, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Rainy River First Nations Indian band in Ontario. He shared findings of the recovering sturgeon population with partners during a joint Ontario-Minnesota fisheries meeting in Fort Frances, Ont.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Court expands property owners’ recourse against EPA 
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of an Idaho couple who were prevented from building their dream home after the Environmental Protection Agency barred them from building on their land. The agency claimed the property was protected wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act.

The ruling gives property owners the right to challenge an EPA compliance order from the time it is issued, rather than waiting for the agency to begin enforcement actions.

The decision comes in the case of Chantell and Mike Sackett, who purchased two-thirds of an acre of land near the shore of Priest Lake, Idaho. In 2007, they broke ground on a planned three-bedroom house, but three days later, EPA officials arrived and asked to see their permit for filling in wetlands. The couple, who had only building permits, said they had no idea that they needed a permit from the EPA because there were other houses nearby.
 –National Public Radio

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Nitrate in the Mississippi; carp DNA in St. Croix

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

Research: Nitrate increasing in Mississippi
The nitrate flowing down the Mississippi River each year and feeding the algae-rich, oxygen-poor “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico increased 9 percent over about the last three decades, a new U.S. Geological Survey analysis concludes.

At Clinton, Iowa — the water sampling site closest to Minnesota for which data were analyzed — the average load of nitrate transported by the river increased 67 percent between 1980 and 2008, to about 242 million pounds per year.

Major findings of the new research were:

  • Despite years of effort by scientists and policy-makers aimed at reducing the nitrogen flowing into the river and then the Gulf, the volume increased, to about 1.9 billion pounds per year in 2008.
  • At Clinton, Iowa, and at Hermann, Mo., on the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi, the average amount of nitrate in the water at any one time and the amount carried downstream on an annual basis increased dramatically. At six other sites in Iowa, Illinois, and Louisiana, nitrate concentrations stayed the same or increased to a lesser degree.
  • Sampling showing that nitrate concentrations increased more in the Mississippi and its tributaries during periods of low water – when much of the rivers’ volume comes from the inflow of groundwater — suggests that nitrate-contaminated groundwater is a significant contributor to nitrate pollution in the rivers. And, because groundwater moves slowly, that means strategies already put into place to reduce nitrate in the rivers may take years to pay dividends.

The new USGS research, published in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology,” did not attempt to determine the source of the nitrate in the rivers. But 2008 modeling by the USGS estimated these sources for nitrogen flowing to the Gulf:

  • Farm fields, primarily corn and soybeans, 66 percent.
  • Pasture and range land, 5 percent.
  • Municipal sewage effluent and urban storm water, 9 percent.
  • Atmospheric deposition, 16 percent.
  • Natural land, 4 percent.

The latest USGS research, led by Lori A. Sprague, used sophisticated statistical analysis to evaluate the results of about 3,000 water samples collected at the eight sites between 1980 and 2008 and to even out the big differences that high and low water levels produced in calculations of the total volumes of nitrate carried downriver on an annual basis.

In a USGS news release announcing publication of the new research, Sprague said: “Applying this new model to decades of USGS water quality data allows us to distinguish between the effects of natural changes in precipitation and streamflow and the effects of purposeful changes in the management of nitrate in the basin.”

In an interview, Sprague said she could not say why the analysis showed such a big increase in average nitrate concentrations, and average annual nitrate loads, at Clinton, Iowa.

Read the full report in Environmental Science & Technology. Read a USGS news release on the research. Read a Star Tribune article on it.

Silver carp DNA found in St. Croix
DNA from the invasive silver carp has been found at 22 sites in the St. Croix River, a development that has deepened despair about the imminent arrival of the notorious leaping fish and doubts that state and federal officials can do anything to stop it.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that 22 of 50 water samples taken between St. Croix Falls and Franconia tested positive for silver carp DNA. The samples did not test positive for the other three species of Asian carp that are believed to moving upriver from Illinois, and another 50 samples from the Mississippi River were negative.

The results are not conclusive evidence that the fish are living and breeding in the St. Croix — none has been found in the river — or that they are absent from the Mississippi, DNR officials said. The DNA could have come from dead carp, live carp someone dumped in the river or fish pellets used in hatcheries.

Still, it ratchets up the fear considerably, they said.

“This is disappointing news,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

The four species of Asian carp have caused enormous ecological damage in the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, where they are well established. The carp eat 40 percent of their body weight every day in plankton and bugs, squeezing out every other creature up the food chain, from sunnies to fish-eating birds.
–The Star Tribune

FAQ on Asian carp
Read a question-and-answer primer on Asian carp from Minnesota Public Radio.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Farm Bill forum on Aug. 22
Register now for the forum on the next federal Farm Bill that the Izaak Walton League of America will host Saturday, Aug. 22, in West St. Paul. The Freshwater Society is helping plan and organize the event.

The forum is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. View the agenda.

Attend the forum, and let your voice be heard on what the next Farm Bill should offer — for farmers, and for the environment.

Report: Canada’s tar sands to increase pollution
The Canadian government has long fought efforts by politicians and environmentalists in other countries, including the United States, to characterize oil sands production as “dirty oil.” But an analysis quietly released late last month by its environmental agency indicates that the tar-like deposits will become an increasingly significant source of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.

Canada’s Emissions Trends,” a peer-reviewed report by the agency, Environment Canada, forecasts that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands will triple to 92 million metric tons, or 101 million short tons, by 2020 from a base level of 30 million metric tons, or 33 million short tons, in 2005.

The vast majority of oil produced from the deposits is shipped to the United States. The study indicates increased emissions from oil sands will more than offset emission reductions in other areas like electricity generation.
–The New York Times

Panel gives conditional OK for ‘fracking’
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release vast supplies of natural gas trapped in shale deposits can be conducted in an environmentally responsible way, a federal energy panel has concluded, but only if major steps are taken, including greater transparency by the gas-drilling industry, the close monitoring of groundwater quality, and the adoption of rigorous emissions standards.

The Department of Energy panel – the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee – created in May at the direction of President Obama to study the controversial fracking procedure, released its findings in a report.

The report was hailed by the gas industry as showing that environmental concerns about fracking were exaggerated, but it came under quick fire from environmental groups, who called the panel heavily tilted toward the oil and gas industry and accusing it of “advocacy-based science.” They said the findings could undercut environmental studies already under way.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Fracking’ yields sand boom in Wisconsin
The oil boom has come to western Wisconsin.

But instead of roustabouts and oil rigs, the region is moving big into the business of sand – a special type that’s used to extract oil and natural gas from hard-to-reach subterranean deposits.

At least 20 sand mines and sand processing plants that cater to the oil and gas industry are operating or in the planning stages, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Geologist Bruce Brown of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey calls the business the “bright star” of the state’s mining industry.

“So many people have come so fast that it’s been like a gold rush out there,” Brown said.

But the projects have also sparked controversy over potential environmental threats.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Residents seek zebra mussel inspections
Residents around three lakes that are a quick boat-trailer pull from zebra mussel-infested Lake Minnetonka are digging into their own pockets to staff public boat launches to protect their lakes from the spread of the dreaded aquatic creatures.

They want all boats headed for Lake Minnewashta, Lotus Lake or Christmas Lake inspected for aquatic invasive species before they are launched into the water. They have raised thousands of dollars and, in addition to relying on volunteers, they are paying college students and interns from the Department of Natural Resources.

To streamline their efforts, they are seeking permission from Carver County and the city of Chanhassen to combine inspections for all three lakes at Lake Minnewashta Regional Park. That’s where boaters heading to nearby Christmas Lake or Lotus Lake would get a punch-in code to raise boat ramp gates on those lakes.

Their proposal, conjuring up images of closed ramps that run against Minnesota’s long-standing open lakes access, has stirred emotions and sparked letters to the editor suggesting elitism on the part of lake homeowners.
–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels explode in Mille Lacs
Huge Lake Mille Lacs — Minnesota’s most popular fishing hot-spot — rocked gently, but beneath the surface was bedlam.

There, on the lake bottom, a population explosion of tiny zebra mussels is occurring that could change the great lake forever.

“It’s a solid carpet of zebra mussels,” shouted Tom Jones, bobbing in the lake in his scuba gear after surfacing from a dive Friday in the gray-green waters.

Jones, a large lake specialist with the Department of Natural Resources, and coworkers dived this month in Mille Lacs to document the growth of the invasive mussels, first found in the 200-square-mile lake in 2005.

What they found stunned them.
–The Star Tribune

DNR tracks 24 ‘sentinel lakes’
After hauling in a rakeful of aquatic plants, Sean Sisler ticked off their names faster than many people can list their relatives.

Eurasian watermilfoil. Canadian waterweed. Coontail. Duckweed.

All were on the double-headed rake Sisler had just tossed to the bottom of Peltier Lake, which lies just outside Centerville north of the Twin Cities, and pulled to the surface.

Sisler, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employee, is part of a larger effort to gather data about plants, fish, water temperature and water quality in 24 so-called sentinel lakes in Minnesota. With that information, scientists believe they’ll be better able to track changes in lake ecology and make quicker assessments about those causes – whether from something as defined as agricultural or urban land-use changes or as complex as global climate change.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Two charged in Chicago-area tainted water
For nearly two decades, the former mayor of Crestwood, who ruled the village of 11,000 with an iron fist, hid from regulators and residents the fact that they were drinking contaminated water, federal authorities said, announcing indictments against two former water department officials.

But Chester Stranczek, whose attorney confirms he’s the “Public Official A” mentioned in the 23-count indictment, has not been charged — and likely will not ­— face criminal charges, his attorney said, because Parkinson’s disease dementia has left him unfit to stand trial.

Facing felony charges are Frank Scaccia, 59, Crestwood’s former certified water operator, and Theresa Neubauer, 53, former water department clerk and supervisor and currently Crestwood’s police chief. Both are accused of lying to environmental regulators for more than 20 years about using a tainted well to supplement the village’s drinking water supply from Lake Michigan, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced in a press release.

The village told residents and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency it was only using Lake Michigan water after 1985, when it discovered a village well had been tainted by vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. But regulators later discovered the village continued to use the well for as much as 20 percent of its water from 1985 to 2007.
–The Chicago Sun-Times

Sewage frequently taints Hudson River
Sewage routinely contaminates the Hudson River throughout the year, rendering the waterway unsuitable for swimming and other recreational activities for at least one and a half days a week, a report based on four years of water testing shows.

The comprehensive study, released by the environmental group Riverkeeper, shows that the recent sewage spill as a result of a fire at a treatment plant in Manhattan reflects a widespread and regular problem along the 155-mile river. Despite much improvement in water quality since passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the group said, 21 percent of water samples taken have unacceptable levels of bacteria because of problems like discharges from aging and failing sewage treatment plants, sewage overflows caused by rain and poorly maintained septic systems.
–The New York Times

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USGS report documents nitrate pollution

Pollution of both surface and ground waters by two major contaminants – nitrogen and phosphorus – has failed to improve or has gotten worse since the early 1990s, a major new study by the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

The new study, released Thursday, Sept. 23,  contained compelling evidence about the widespread nitrate contamination of shallow aquifers, the source of water for many people who rely on private wells.  

The study, which examined results from multiple tests of streams and groundwater between 1992 and 2004, found:

  •   Nitrate concentrations in 7 percent of about 2,400 private wells across the country exceeded the national health standard for drinking water.
  •  In agricultural areas, water from more than 20 percent of the shallow private wells tested exceeded the health standard.
  •  In deeper wells used for public water supply systems, about 3 percent of the water tested exceeded the limit.
  • In streams in agricultural and urban areas, levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were two to 10 times greater than Environmental Protection Agency criteria set for protecting the health of plants and other organisms.

Elevated levels of nitrate can be caused by fertilizers, runoff from feedlots and septic systems. High levels of nitrate in drinking water are especially harmful for infants, causing a condition known as methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome.”

Phosphorus from fertilizers and naturally occurring organic sources feeds nuisance algae growth. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters.

The USGS report, titled Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater, is available at www.usgs.gov.

In a news release announcing the report’s release, Mathew C. Larsen, the USGS associate director for water, said: “Despite major federal, state and local efforts and expenditures to control sources and movement of nutrients within our nation’s watersheds, national-scale progress was not evident in this assessment, which is based on thousands of measurements and hundreds of studies across the country from the 1990s and early 2000s.”

In Minnesota, a random test of water quality in about 700 private wells in the mid-90s by the state Health Department, found that 5.8 percent exceeded the health standard for nitrate.

 In Dakota County, where the county aggressively samples water from private wells, about one in every four wells violates the health standard for nitrate, according to Jill Trescott, the county’s supervisor for groundwater protection.

 “It’s definitely worse in the rural parts of the county, particularly in the east and the south,” Trescott said. And she added: “It’s the older wells we see problems with.” Newer wells, drilled since about 1989, are much less likely to exceed the nitrate standard because wells since then have been drilled deeper, she said.

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USGS study find contaminants in private wells

More than one in every five private domestic wells sampled nationwide contain at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study was released this morning.
USGS scientists sampled about 2,100 private wells between 1991 and 2004 in 48 states and found that the contaminants most frequently measured at concentrations of potential health concern were inorganic contaminants, including radon and arsenic. These contaminants are mostly derived from the natural geologic materials that make up the aquifers from which well water is drawn.
Nitrate was the most common inorganic contaminant derived from man-made sources-such as from fertilizer applications and septic-tanks-that was found at concentrations greater than the Federal drinking-water standard for public-water supplies (10 parts per million). Nitrate was greater than the standard in about 4 percent of sampled wells.
The study shows that the occurrence of selected contaminants varies across the country, often following distinct geographic patterns related to geology, geochemical conditions, and land use. For example, elevated concentrations of nitrate were largely associated with intensively farmed land, such as in parts of the Midwest Corn Belt and the Central Valley of California. Radon was found at relatively high concentrations in crystalline-rock aquifers in the Northeast, in the central and southern Appalachians, and in central Colorado.
“The results of this study are important because they show that a large number of people may be unknowingly affected,” Matt Larsen, the USGS Associate Director for Water, said in a news release.

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