Ethanol, PFCs, smelt, a mud volcano — and more

Every week the Freshwater Society publishes In the News, a digest of regional, national and international news articles and other reports about water, water pollution, water conservation and the environment.

Click on the links below to read the original sources excerpted in the digest.

Oceans getting more acidic, study says
Parts of the world’s oceans appear to be acidifying far faster than scientists have expected.

The culprit: rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere pumped into the air from cars, power plants, and industries.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Judge finds no proof PFCs harmed anyone
Did pollution by the 3M Co. hurt anyone?

Not for purposes of a lawsuit against the company, a Washington County judge has ruled.
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ballast water rule set to go into effect
Commercial ships must dump ballast water at sea or rinse their tanks if empty under a new federal policy designed to prevent invasive foreign species from entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency included the requirement in a general permit issued under a court order requiring it to regulate water discharges from ships to protect native ecosystems.
–The Associated Press

Mining, drilling threaten Colorado River
The Colorado River has endured drought, large-scale climate changes, pollution, ecological damage from dams and battles by seven states to draw more water.

Now the life vein of the Southwest faces another threat: Energy companies are sucking up the Colorado’s water to support increased development of oil, natural gas and uranium deposits along the river’s basin. The mining and drilling will likely send more toxins into the waterway, which provides drinking water for one out of 12 Americans and nourishes 15 percent of the nation’s crops along its journey from Wyoming and Colorado to Mexico.
–San Diego Union-Tribune

Drillers hit molten rock in Hawaii
A geothermal power company drilling a mile and a half deep on one of the Hawaiian Islands has for the first time encountered an undisturbed chamber of magma, or molten rock, scientists reported.

Before the discovery, which was made in 2005, the only access to magma had been on Earth’s surface — in the form of lava from volcanoes.
–The Washington Post

USGS assesses chances for ‘abrupt’ climate change
The United States faces the potential for abrupt climate change in the 21st century that could pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt.

The new assessment was prepared by a team of climate scientists from the federal government and academia. The report was commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program with contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.
–USGS News Release

Greenhouse gas rules could apply to farmers
It’s not on the books yet, but farmers in Minnesota are worried about a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would allow the government to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act — and cost farmers big bucks.

In Washington parlance, the agency has issued an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” on its ability to police emissions — an early warning shot demonstrating the government’s intent to impose a new regulation. The document is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dealt with a petition to regulate vehicle emissions, and essentially requires the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger public health.

Eyota ethanol plan put on hold
The controversial ethanol plant planned for tiny Eyota, near Rochester in southeastern Minnesota, has been put on indefinite hold with developers of the proposed 55-million gallon plant citing low investor interest and high startup costs.

“Uncertain economic times and dramatic fluctuations in commodity prices have dampened the public’s investing appetite,” said MinnErgy President Ron Scherbring in a press release filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. MinnErgy has been working since last May to raise $133 million to advance plant construction.

NASA documents decline in arctic ice
More than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming.

More than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by NASA’s GRACE satellite, said NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke. The water melting from Greenland in the past five years would fill up about 11 Chesapeake Bays, he said, and the Greenland melt seems to be accelerating.

Florida agency approves Everglades deal
Water managers narrowly approved a $1.34 billion deal to buy a sprawling swath of sugar fields — a landmark purchase with promise to dramatically reshape Everglades restoration and surrounding farming communities.

A deeply divided South Florida Water Management District’s governing board voted 4-3 to accept the controversial deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp., supporting Gov. Charlie Crist’s appeal to seize a “historic opportunity.”
–The Miami Herald

FDA to continue studying ingredient in plastic
The Food and Drug Administration, criticized by its own scientific advisers for ignoring available data about health risks posed by a chemical found in everyday plastic, said it has no plans to amend its position on the substance but will continue to study it.

The agency has been reviewing its risk assessments for bisphenol A, a chemical used to harden plastic that is found in a wide variety of products, from baby bottles to compact discs to the lining of canned goods. The chemical, commonly called BPA, mimics estrogen and may disrupt the body’s carefully calibrated endocrine system.
–The Washington Post

California water diversion slashed to help smelt
Federal biologists issued new rules that will reduce the amount of water pumped to cities and farms from San Francisco Bay’s delta by as much as one-third in some years — part of a court-ordered effort to save a two-inch, silvery fish from extinction.

The long-awaited “biological opinion” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have a significant impact on Silicon Valley, which receives roughly half of its drinking water from the delta and the other half from local underground aquifers.
–San Jose Mercury News

EPA lauds Orange County water re-use
The Orange County Water District is being awarded the prestigious Water Efficiency Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in recognition of the district’s leadership in wastewater purification for groundwater replenishment.

The southern California district supplies water to more than 20 cities and water agencies, serving more than 2.3 million Orange County residents. Since 1933, the agency has replenished and maintained the groundwater basin at safe levels while more than doubling the basin’s annual yield. This important source of water provides local groundwater producers with a reliable supply of high-quality water.
–EPA News Release

Drilling spawns mud volcano in Indonesia
Her children insist, so every week or two Lilik Kamina takes them back to their abandoned village to look at the mud.

“Hey, Mom, there’s our house, there’s the mango tree,” she said they shout. But there is nothing to see, only an ocean of mud that has buried this village and a dozen more over the past two-and-a-half years.
–The New York Times

Opinion: Go slow on genetically modified crops
As the Bush administration nears its final weeks, officials are hastily loosening key rules in workplace safety, environmental protection — and soon, perhaps, on American farmlands. This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began finalizing its oversight rules for genetically modified crops: artificial plant strains with the potential for doing humans great good — and serious long-term harm.

The USDA needs to resist any industry pressure to rush these new rules into effect.
–Houston Chronicle

EPA seeks comment on Indiana injection wells
Duke Energy Indiana of Plainfield, Ind., has applied for federal permits to construct eight underground injection wells at its plant just south of Edwardsport, Ind. EPA has determined the disposal wells do not pose a threat to underground sources of drinking water and proposes to approve the permits. EPA asks the public to comment on them by Jan. 15, 2009.

The draft permit is available for review at Bicknell-Vigo Township Public Library, 201 W. Second St. or online at
–EPA News Release