Fire-fighting foam, fish viruses and drowning corn

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

DNR inadvertently allows new fish virus into state
The state agency charged with protecting Minnesota’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry from diseases allowed a virus potentially dangerous to fish into the state last year.

Last May, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources mistakenly approved a shipment of 2,000 rainbow trout from Wisconsin to a rural Cloquet man, who legally purchased them and put them into his private pond.
– St. Paul Pioneer Press

Obama Administration begins to weigh Environmental Priorities
In his first weeks in office, President Obama has dismantled many environmental policies set by the Bush administration. But in some areas, he will be building on the work of his predecessor, rather than taking it apart.

Mr. Bush was not known for his concern over the environment. In the eight years of his tenure, he opened vast tracts of public lands to drilling, mining and timbering, earning the enmity of many environmentalists. His critics accused him of easing restrictions on polluters, subverting science and dragging his feet on global warming.
 The New York Times

PCA to study contamination from fire-fighting foam
Minnesota health officials are launching a major investigation into whether drinking water in 15 Minnesota cities is contaminated with chemicals formerly manufactured by 3M Co. and used in municipal fire-fighting foam .

The tests, set to begin next month, will be important to residents and fire officials in communities across the country where a 3M firefighting foam has been used for years in training exercises, often on city-owned property adjacent to municipal wells. The foam is flushed into storm sewers or left to seep into the ground, raising the possibility that drinking water has been affected.

“This could have national significance,” said Doug Wetzstein, supervisor in the superfund section at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Firefighters virtually everywhere have used the foam for decades, he said, at city practice areas, community college training courses, and especially at military bases, airports and refineries where jet fuel and other petroleum-based fires are a major concern.
–Star Tribune

Climate change prompts Arctic fishing ban
A federal fishery panel voted to close off a large swath of the Arctic sea to commercial fishing. The move was a pre-emptive measure to protect more than 150,000 square nautical miles north of the Bering Strait that have become more accessible as a result of the warming Arctic climate.
–The New York Times

Oregon legislation seeks dam removal dollars
Groups representing irrigators, fishermen and tribes urged Oregon lawmakers to approve a bill to increase power rates for PacifiCorp customers to pay for removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River .

The rate hike bill is needed to help put into effect a tentative deal reached last fall by state and federal officials calling for removal of the dams as a way to settle a decades-long water struggle in the Klamath Basin.

As a Senate panel opened hearings on the proposal, supporters said it would improve beleaguered salmon runs and provide stability for agriculture in the area.
–The Associated Press

Save the planet: Drown some corn stalks
A leading idea to fight global climate change is to permanently remove some of the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere.

Plants remove CO2 from the air through photosynthesis, incorporating the carbon in their tissues. So dumping corn stalks, wheat straw and other crop residues into the deep ocean, where cold and lack of oxygen would keep them from decomposing, would in effect sequester atmospheric CO2 on a time scale of millennia.
–The New York Times

Corn-based ethanol no better than gas, study finds
Corn ethanol is no better fuel than gasoline, and it may even be worse for air quality, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

The study is the first one to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from three different fuels — gasoline, corn-based ethanol and cellulosic (plant-based) ethanol — its authors say.

Scientists and economists looked at life-cycle emissions of growing, harvesting, producing and burning different fuels, and concluded that ethanol made from switchgrass and other plant materials is far better than either corn ethanol or gasoline.
–The Star Tribune

Under-ocean lab studies climate change
A crane on a ship deck hoisted a 502-pound video camera and plopped it into the ocean for a 3,000-foot descent to the world of neon-glowing jellyfish, bug-eyed red rock cod and other still unknown slithery critters.

The so-called Eye-in-the-Sea camera would be added to the first observatory operating in deep sea water and become part of a new kind of scientific exploration to assess the impacts of climate change on marine life.
–The Associated Press

San Diego considers fee-based water conservation
In drafting their newest proposal to cope with drought, San Diego’s leaders said they favor empowerment over enforcement .

The emerging plan minimizes efforts to police people’s behavior, such as restricting days for lawn watering, and instead allocates water to customers based on their usage in 2006 and 2007.

Residents and businesses would use their monthly “budget” as they see fit. If they go over the cap, they would get hit with fees up to five times the regular cost of water.
–San Diego Union-Tribune

Mining Alberta’s oil sands demand lots of water
An awe-struck James Smith, chairman of Shell UK, reflects as he surveys the huge Muskeg River Mine in Canada’s Albertan oil sands . “It’s big,” he says.

Certainly, standing 25 metres down in a 15km squared oil sands quarry puts the scale of the operation in perspective. Here the world’s largest trucks transport 400 tonnes of tar sands in each haul – just four grabs of the even larger excavator’s claw. The truck tyres are twice the height of an ordinary human being.

“I’ve worked in the world’s largest goldmine [in Indonesia] and this is much bigger,” observes Todd Dahlman, Shell Canada’s mining operations manager. Muskeg River Mine has a design capacity of 155,000 barrels per day (bpd) of bitumen, a heavy crude oil that, once mined, is separated from the sand using warm water. It is run by Albian Sands Energy, a joint venture between Shell Canada (60%), Marathon Oil Canada (20%) and Chevron Canada (20%).

Washington State wells mine Ice Age Water
A groundwater-mapping study that tracks how water trickles under Eastern Washington shows deep wells in four counties are in deep trouble.

The two-year study done by the Columbia Basin Groundwater Management Area, based in Othello, found that aquifer levels are dropping fast, that most deep wells in the study area are drawing water left from the ice-age floods at least 10,000 years ago, and that there is virtually no chance Lake Roosevelt is recharging deep wells in Eastern Washington’s driest counties.
–Tri-City Herald

Wolves owe black coats to dogs, research shows
In a bit of genetic sleuthing, a team of researchers has determined that black wolves and coyotes in North America got their distinctive color from dogs that carried a gene mutation to the New World.

The finding presents a rare instance in which a genetic mutation from a domesticated animal has benefited wild animals by enriching their “genetic legacy,” the scientists write in Thursday’s Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science. Because black wolves are more common in forested areas than on the tundra, the researchers concluded that melanism — the pigmentation that resulted from the mutation — must give those animals an adaptive advantage.
–The New York Times

Ground water depletion turns Calcutta water saline
Calcutta’s water is turning saline, forcing many parts of the city to depend on bottled water to dilute the mineral monster.

There is not a drop to drink in Santoshpur, for instance, which has been left with only saline water in its underground poolin the wake of a real estate boom. In some other crowded areas, tubewells are being sunk deeper than 700 feet to find fresh water.
–The Telegraph

California lawsuit filed over salmon
Conservation and fishermen’s groups filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court seeking to force state and regional water boards to implement existing clean water laws in the wild rivers and streams of the state’s North Coast region.

The groups argue that only cleaner waters will enable the recovery of endangered salmon species.

For decades, water quality in North Coast river and streams has been degraded by sediment, nutrients, high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, and turbidity. These pollutants are the result of dam construction, water diversions, urban development, agriculture, logging, mining, and grazing.
–Environmental News Service

Write sustainability into your travel itinerary
From diesel buses kept running outside ancient ruins, their engines driving the air conditioning for those trooping around the historic site, to the polluting effects of the airplanes that transport us around the world, travel is an easy target these days for those who would see us reduce our environmental impact.

But travel can also be positive — it can contribute to the viability of local communities, it can connect people to cultures around the world, and it can even open our eyes to where we can help the world the most.

So, is it possible to travel without damaging the world?
– Calgary Herald

Blackduck man fined for filling wetlands
A Blackduck man has been found guilty of major wetlands violations in Itasca County. The violations were part of the Wetland Conservation Act, administered by local counties with support from by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Jeffery R. Swanson, 40, was sentenced to pay more than $15,000 in fines and fees, placed on a two-year unsupervised probation and had 180 days in jail stayed for two years.
–The Bemidji Pioneer

Saving water helps some mosquitoes
Mosquitoes have an unwitting new ally in the war on infectious diseases—conservationists. Turns out that, for mosquitoes carrying dengue-fever, environmentally conscious humans may be aiding the invasion. That’s the finding of a study published in the journal Functional Ecology.

In Australia, severe drought has led citizens to capture and store rainwater. While that’s good for water conservation, the resulting array of water-storage tanks provides the perfect breeding ground for an army of mosquitoes.
–Scientific American