Conservation funding bills get attention

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Read it here, or go to

Minnesota legislators turn attention to water
What are the best ways to protect and clean up Minnesota waters – from its groundwater to its many lakes and rivers?

At the state Capitol, lawmakers are preparing their answers.

After weeks of often-lengthy hearings, they’re assembling legislation identifying how to spend one-third of the money to be raised over the next year by a voter-approved sales tax increase that begins in July.

It’ll also be the culmination of years of work.

For almost a decade, the state has been debating how to pay for a federally required water-cleanup effort, estimated to cost $80 million to $100 million a year over several decades. But it couldn’t agree on a way to pay for such a commitment until the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment was approved in November.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Pollution catches up with St. Croix River
The gradual but steady pollution of the popular St. Croix River means it’s no longer the sparkling algae-free gem it was four decades ago.

Already classified as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the St. Croix is expected to land on a national top 10 list of endangered rivers that will be announced by American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.

“We’re not happy with the news but getting some national attention in Minnesota and Wisconsin is good,” said Dan McGuiness, interim executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “We’re hoping that this information will help us bring more attention to the river.”
–The Star Tribune

Are some chemicals more dangerous at low doses?
There are some 82,000 chemicals used commercially in the U.S., but only a fraction have been tested to make sure they’re safe and just five are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to congressional investigators. But a government scientist says there’s no guarantee testing actually rules out health risks anyway.

The basic premise of safety testing for chemicals is that anything can kill you in high enough doses (even too much water too fast can be lethal). The goal is to find safe levels that cause no harm. But new research suggests that some chemicals may be more dangerous than previously believed at low levels when acting in concert with other chemicals.

“Some chemicals may act in an additive fashion,” Linda Birnbaum said at a conference held at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University. “When we look one compound at a time, we may miss the boat.”
–Scientific American

EPA posts mug shots of most-wanted fugitives
Albania Deleon started a business eight years ago to instruct and certify workers in the safe removal of asbestos. It was a growth industry, and pretty soon her company, Environmental Compliance Training in Methuen, Mass., was the largest in the state.

Some might say Ms. Deleon, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is a naturalized citizen, was living the American dream.

But not the Environmental Protection Agency, which added her to its list of “E.P.A. Fugitives,” people who have been charged with violating environmental laws or regulations.
–The New York Times

Will conservation fervor dry up?
Two years ago, while metro Atlanta’s drought burned through the record book, Karin Guzy of east Cobb turned off her in-ground sprinkler system.

It hasn’t been on since.

Instead, she waters her garden from two 250-gallon water cisterns. The large buckets easily fill from light rain collected off her roof.

Guzy doesn’t plan to go back to using drinking-caliber water on her 2-acre garden. Not even with the declaration by the state climatologist that metro Atlanta is finally out of the three-year drought.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Court backs cost-benefit analysis in water case
In a defeat for environmental groups, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency may use cost-benefit calculations to decide whether to require power plants to make changes that could prevent the destruction of billions of aquatic organisms each year.

The decision affects more than 500 power plants that are collectively responsible for more than half of the nation’s electricity-generating capacity. The plants use more than 200 billion gallons of water from nearby waterways each day for cooling, and they kill vast numbers of fish, shellfish and other organisms in the process, squashing them against intake screens or sucking them into cooling systems.
–The New York Times

Minneapolis tap water turns smelly
The municipal water in Minneapolis again is wrinkling noses with a telltale odor and taste.

A mustiness is being detected from tap water, and city Water Plant Operations Superintendent Chris Catlin is chalking it up to “some seasonal taste and odor issues” that tend to come around this time of year.

Catlin said to expect the sensory disruption to last another six weeks, emphasizing that there are no health problems. “Our water continues to meet all federal and state standards,” he said.
–Star Tribune

Recession cuts into Everglades purchase
The Everglades have become yet another victim of the shrinking economy.

Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Florida would significantly scale back its $1.34 billion deal to restore the Everglades by buying 180,000 acres from the United States Sugar Corporation.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Mr. Crist outlined a far more modest proposal: $530 million for 72,500 acres, with an option to buy the rest by 2019.
–The New York Times

California looks into its climatic future
As California warms in coming decades, farmers will have less water, the state could lose more than a million acres of cropland and forest fire rates will soar, according to a broad-ranging state report.

The document, which officials called the “the ultimate picture to date” of global warming’s likely effect on California, consists of 37 research papers that examine an array of issues including water supply, air pollution and property losses.

Without actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions, “severe and costly climate impacts are possible and likely across California,” warned state environmental protection secretary Linda Adams.

The draft Climate Action Team Report, an update of a 2006 assessment, concludes that some climate change effects could be more serious than previously thought.
–The Los Angeles Times

Iowa State to study nutrient flow to Gulf
Iowa State University researchers will receive $600,000 in federal grants to help them reduce the water pollutants that flow from Iowa to the oxygen-depleted zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

The watersheds of Raccoon River, Walnut Creek and Boone River will be studied. The grant money comes out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s national Targeted Watersheds Grant Program.

“EPA is committed to protecting our nation’s watersheds,” acting Regional Administrator William Rice said in a statement. “The three watersheds identified by Iowa State University helps focus the agencies’ efforts to improve water quality, which will result in a reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Gulf of Mexico.”
–The Des Moines Register

Sweeping wilderness bill signed
President Obama signed a sweeping land conservation package into law, protecting more than 2 million acres as wilderness and creating a national system to conserve land held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The measure, a collection of 170 bills that represents the most significant wilderness effort in at least 15 years, would provide the highest level of federal protection to areas such as Oregon’s Mount Hood and part of Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, along with sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia. It also authorizes the first coordinated federal research program to investigate ocean acidification and allows additional funding to protect ecologically valuable coastal areas and estuaries.

The law also establishes the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System, which aims to protect the most environmentally and historically significant lands controlled by the BLM. The new system, which encompasses 850 sites, including the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona and Nevada’s Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, requires the agency to make conservation a priority when managing these areas.
–The Washington Post

Group plans Straight River clean-up
As a kid, Ryan Kubat spent a lot of time on the Straight River. As a father, he often takes his son canoeing down the river or on other river-related outings. But over the years he has noticed the river getting darker and darker.

“The Straight River is really a treasure for Steele County,” Kubat said. “There’s a lot of garbage in the river; there’s a lot of garbage on the banks and the places around the river we need to clean out of there.”

This year, he and other members of the Cannon River Watershed are hoping an organized clean-up effort can help clear up some of the trash not only in the Straight River but all along the Cannon River Watershed.
–Owatonna People’s Press

Iowa bill would limit manure regulation
Community and environmental activists criticized a measure working its way through the Legislature that they claim would undercut efforts to protect Iowa’s rivers and streams.

They said a measure approved 43-6 in the Senate would stop state environmental officials from crafting regulations that restrict the application of manure to frozen ground.

“The Senate’s action is a travesty,” said Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “It’s a slap in the face to all Iowans who care about clean water and a decent quality of life.”
–The Associated Press

New Mexico asserts control over deep ground water
Starting March 30, anyone trying to lay claim to water in New Mexico that deeper than 2,500 feet below the surface will come under state regulation.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill into law that gives the state authority to divvy up rights for water 2,500 feet below the surface and deeper. The state already has purview over ground water and H2O just below the ground surface.

Because of a quirk of state law, however, this deep groundwater has not fallen under the purview of state authority as has groundwater and water in rivers and lakes.

But population growth has caused some growing cities, such as Rio Rancho, to start searching for other sources of water beyond importing H2O in or relying on surface water. And that has led them to look deep below the surface to these aquifers for sources of H2O. Sandoval County, where Rio Rancho is located, has even partnered with a corporation to begin plans for a desalination plant to make the salty, mineral-laden water usable.
–The New Mexico Independent

Maryland bill would mandate septic changes
Moving to correct a major water pollution problem in some portions of the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Senate agreed to require nitrogen-removing  technology on all new or replacement household septic systems near the shoreline.

Under the bill, which was narrowly approved, the state would cover the extra cost of replacing a failing septic system with an enhanced one capable of removing nitrogen from household wastewater. But homebuyers would have to bear the added cost of about $5,600 for an enhanced system when building a house along the shore.

The measure now goes to the House of Delegates, where its future is uncertain.
–The Baltimore Sun

Lake Superior water level up from 2008
Lake Superior’s
water level dropped an inch in March, or slightly more than its usual drop for the month. The International Lake Superior Board of Control says the lake generally drops about half an inch in March. The levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron rose two inches this month, which is their typical increase. Both lakes are nine inches below their long-term average but a foot higher than they were a year ago.

Water levels usually fall from September to March and begin to rise in April.

Lake Superior neared record low levels in 2007 but it’s been edging back to normal. Its level is six inches below its long-term average for April 1, but still five inches above the level at this time last year.
–The Associated Press