Endocrine-disruptors and birds moving north

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.

Database tracks impacts of endocrine-disruptors

An electronic database has gathered the latest science on some of the most controversial chemicals in use, offering a handy look into potential health effects when babies are exposed while developing in the womb.

The interactive Web site, called “Critical Windows of Development, ” has compiled an array of data from hundreds of scientists studying low doses of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Theo Colborn, a scientist often credited with discovering in the early 1990s that environmental pollutants were mimicking and altering hormones, led the effort to create the database. She said her intent is to give scientists, policymakers, journalists and others immediate access to the information in a user-friendly, visually interesting way.

“This puts information directly at our fingertips with the utmost ease,” said Gail Prins, a physiology professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and one of a few dozen scientists who have previewed the Web site. “By making it electronic, the worldwide availability is a tremendous step forward in data dissemination.”
–Scientific America

L.A. mayor urges tiered water rates to spur conservation
Calling the ongoing three-year drought a crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for severe water-use restrictions and a tiered rate system that would reward customers who conserve and punish those who don’t with higher bills.

Lawn watering would be restricted to two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays, and could be cut to one day a week by summer if the drought continues, Villaraigosa said. The mayor made his announcement on a rainy winter day, but L.A.’s current wet weather is not expected to ease the drought. Restrictions could be imposed as early as March but would have to be approved by the City Council and commissioners at the city’s Department of Water and Power.

The increased conservation measures are proposed because the Metropolitan Water District, a major wholesale water supplier to Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California, has warned that the worsening drought may force it to cut water deliveries by 15% to 25%.
–The Los Angeles Times

Northeastern moose count holds steady
Northeastern Minnesota’s 2008 moose survey estimates a population of 7,600 animals. This is similar to last year’s count, but related factors suggest that the population is continuing to decline.

“The raw survey numbers were similar,” said Mark Lenarz, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife researcher overseeing moose research. “But a historically low calf survival rate, a steadily declining hunter-success ratio, and a higher than normal non-hunting mortality rate all continue to suggest a downward trend in the moose population.”

Minnesota’s 2008 non-hunting mortality moose rate was 17 percent, down 3 percent from the 20 percent average rate reported during the past seven years. Elsewhere in North America, between 8 and 12 percent of moose generally die from causes other than hunting.
–Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Climate change drives birds north
Nearly 60% of the 305 bird species found in North America in winter are on the move, shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles. Audubon scientists analyzed 40 years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data — and their findings provide new and powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems. Northward movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds.

Only grassland species were an exception – with only 38 percent mirroring the northward trend. But far from being good news for species like Eastern Meadowlark and Henslow’s Sparrow, this reflects the grim reality of severely-depleted grassland habitat and suggests that these species now face a double threat from the combined stresses of habitat loss and climate adaptation.

China vows to wring more production from water
China, faced with widespread water shortages exacerbated by its worst drought in decades, aims to cut the amount of water it uses to produce each dollar of national income by 60 percent by 2020, state media said.

The target, unveiled by Water Resources Minister Chen Lei, underlines Beijing’s growing concern over chronic water shortages that it fears could undermine its ability to feed itself and crimp economic growth in the long run.

“We must take strict measures to preserve water resources in the face of the severe lack of water worsened by factors such as overuse, pollution and drought,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as telling a conference on Saturday.

New fish consumption advisory set
Twin Lake in Robbinsdale and Crystal in Hennepin County has been found to have levels of a perfluorochemical (PFC) in fish, similar to the higher levels previously measured in lakes Calhoun, Elmo and Johanna. The PFOS (perfluorooctonate sulfate) levels in these fish place them in the one meal per month consumption category, given no impact from other contaminants.

“Our concern with consuming fish is any long-term exposure to contaminants,” said Patricia McCann, fish consumption advisory coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health . “Our advice for how often it is safe to eat fish is set at a level that is protective of human health over many years of continuous fish eating.” The advisory is updated annually to reflect new fish contaminant data.

The Health Department is in the process of analyzing the fish tissue data from this latest round of lake sampling by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for PFCs as well as data on additional lakes from the Department of Natural Resources for mercury and polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs).
–Minnesota Department of Health

Florida review predicts ground water decline
Aquifer levels will drop seriously in Northeast Florida within 20 years if a growing population doesn’t waste less water, new estimates by water managers warn.

That change could draw saltier water into some wells JEA uses to supply its customers, making them unacceptable for public use, say the projections by scientists at the St. Johns River Water Management District. It could also have far-reaching effects on the region’s natural environment, from harming plants to lowering lake volumes in Putnam and southern Clay counties.

“This is a fairly significant projected impact,” said Hal Wilkening, director of the agency’s resource management department. “When we look at it cumulatively … this is not going to be sustainable.”
–Jacksonville Times-Union

Economy threatens ethanol industry
Barely a year after Congress enacted an energy law meant to foster a huge national enterprise capable of converting plants and agricultural wastes into automotive fuel, the goals lawmakers set for the ethanol industry are in serious jeopardy.

In the meantime, plans are lagging for a new generation of factories that were supposed to produce ethanol from substances like wood chips and crop waste, overcoming the drawbacks of corn ethanol. That nascent branch of the industry concedes it has virtually no chance of meeting Congressional production mandates that kick in next year.
–The New York Times

Pentagon pays to offset birds’ habitat loss
The Pentagon has been funding Texas A&M University to pay landowners near a Texas military post to protect endangered bird species on their land under a secretive program designed to free the military to conduct training activities that would damage the birds’ habitats inside the post’s boundaries, documents show.

Despite complaints that the program is a boondoggle for the landowners, some federal officials are pushing to replicate it at other military sites and in federal highway projects. The program’s effectiveness has been questioned by several military officials, federal wildlife authorities and an independent consulting firm, which recommended that the Army cancel it.
–The Washington Post

West Virginia ground water study is late
A study into the effects of coal slurry on groundwater has missed three deadlines and is still months from completion, and West Virginia lawmakers are running out of patience.

Department of Environmental Protection Director Randy Huffman bore the brunt of legislators’ frustration Tuesday, as they said even the appearance of foot-dragging on a public health issue is inexcusable.
–The Associated Press

California drought spurs talk of cooperation
The potential for unprecedented water shortages this year may spur farmers, environmentalists and urban water planners, to find common ground that has so far eluded them, according to speakers at an irrigation conference in Sacramento.

During panel discussions at the 47th annual California Irrigation Institute conference last week, several speakers stressed the urgent need to resolve the state’s pressing water problems.

“Too often, we talk at one another instead of with one another, and that is not conducive to arriving at what can be some longer-term progress and solutions,” farmer Mark Borba of Riverdale told the conference. “People are tired of fighting.”
–California Farm Bureau Federation

Pollution ruins Vietnamese oyster farms
Nearly 3,000 hectares of oyster farms in Long Son Village of Vung Tau City has been destroyed due to polluted water, causing a property damage worth tens of billions of Vietnam dong for local people, said an officer of the village.

Bui Duc Binh, vice chairman of the island village, told the Daily on Tuesday that the water source of the Van and Rang rivers, where nearly 500 families of the village are cultivating oyster, has been polluted since August last year. The polluted water has killed most of oysters.

Binh said the villagers early this year had lodged some 400 complaints to the city government to demand a probe into the water pollution situation.

He said that the city’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment then had conducted inspections at the rivers to find out the cause of pollution, and pinpointed the culprits being some 25 companies in Tan Thanh District discharging untreated wastewater into the two rivers.