A pollution case goes to trial

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

Water pollution case goes to trial
After five years, it comes down to this.

The 3M Co. pollution case — at least, what’s left of it — staggers into court today.

Dozens of lawyers have been working since 2005 for this day, the start of a jury trial expected to last eight weeks.

Chemicals found in Washington County drinking water have cost the company more than $56 million in cleanup costs, and the current lawsuit could boost that by millions.

But as big as the lawsuit is, it is a puny version of what it could have been.

At one point, it had the potential of being one of the largest environmental lawsuits in state history.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Air pollutants diverted to waterways
Faced with new evidence that utilities across the country are dumping toxic sludge into waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.

Plants in Florida, Pennsylvania and several other states have flushed wastewater with levels of selenium and other toxins that far exceed the EPA’s freshwater and saltwater standards aimed at protecting aquatic life, according to data the agency has collected over the past few years. While selenium can be beneficial in tiny amounts, elevated levels damage not only fish but also birds and people who consume contaminated fish.

But the reason more selenium and metals such as arsenic are now entering U.S. waterways is because the federal government has pressed utilities to install pollution-control “scrubbing” technology that captures contaminants headed for smokestacks and stores them as coal ash or sludge. The EPA estimates that these two types of coal combustion residue — often kept in outdoor pools or flushed into nearby rivers and streams — amount to roughly 130,000 tons per year and will climb to an estimated 175,000 tons by 2015.
–The Washington Post

What’s a synonym for global warming?
The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”
–The New York Times

St. Lawrence Seaway: Economic boon, pathway for invasives

Fifty years ago, an oceangoing ship arrived in the Duluth-Superior harbor for the first time. As of that day, the St. Lawrence Seaway System had connected Duluth, in the middle of the continent, with the Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 miles away. The Seaway is considered a modern engineering marvel. But some think it was a colossal mistake — an open invitation to destructive and aggressive plants and animals from overseas.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Cleaner lakes? It was due to lack of rain
Most west-metro lakes were cleaner last year, but the improvement was more a product of the dry weather than efforts to curb pollution, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District says.

Lower-than-usual rainfall caused fewer pollutants to wash into the lakes, so most improved by a half to a full letter grade in ratings just released by the district.

The Watershed District has been grading its lakes on an A-to-F scale since 1989 based on water clarity, algae growth and phosphorus levels. Of the 62 sites graded in 2008, 40 showed improvement, nine were rated lower in quality, and 11 were unchanged from 2007. Two had not been monitored the previous year.

The grades are available at: www.minnehahacreek.org/wq_lake_grades.php.
–The Star Tribune

Review asked of permitting for mega-dairy
An environmental group is accusing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of failing to comply with environmental safeguards in issuing permits to Rosendale Dairy.

Members of People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale have filed a petition with the DNR seeking review of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit issued recently to Rosendale Dairy, a new industrial livestock facility in Fond du Lac County that plans to become Wisconsin’s largest dairy.

Owner Jim Ostrom said the environmental community, including PEPL, asked the DNR to conduct an extensive environmental impact study, which preceded issuance of the wastewater discharge permit.

“The result was the most scrutinized, permitted and reviewed farm in our state’s history,” Ostrom said. “And after that very elaborate and extensive review, the DNR issued permits.”
–The Reporter

Illinois city’s records seized in water case
Federal agents and the Illinois state police raided Village Hall here, seizing Crestwood’s drinking water records in a search for evidence of environmental crimes, officials said.

The raid was prompted by recent accusations that for 21 years Crestwood officials supplemented the village’s water supply, which comes from Lake Michigan, with water from a local well despite a warning in 1986 from state environmental officials that doing so was dangerous and illegal.
–The New York Times

Bush rule on mountaintop mining may change

The Obama administration stepped up efforts to reverse a rule adopted late in the Bush administration that makes it easier for companies to deposit debris from mountaintop coal mining near streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the rule was legally flawed and that he had asked government lawyers to press a federal court to vacate it and send it back for reworking. “The so-called stream buffer zone rule simply doesn’t pass muster with respect to adequately protecting water quality and stream habitat that communities rely on in coal country,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The New York Times

Jettisoning cafeteria trays saves water
John Belushi memorialized them in “Animal House” as he stockpiled edible projectiles for an epic food fight. Generations of college students in the Northeast have deployed them as makeshift sleds. But the once-ubiquitous cafeteria tray, with so many glasses of soda, juice and milk lined up across the top, could soon join the typewriter as a campus relic.

Scores of colleges and universities across the country are shelving the trays in hopes of conserving water, cutting food waste, softening the ambience and saving money.
–The New York Times

Vermont may cede water quality responsibility to EPA
Frustrated by continuing lawsuits and disagreements over water protection in Vermont, the state may find itself giving back to the federal government authority for regulating water pollution.

Such a move would have a major impact on businesses, farmers and homeowners in the state, since it would put the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Boston – not state officials – in charge of issuing and administering a permit for a stormwater system, or a farm or a wastewater treatment plant. Besides review and permitting being done in Boston instead of by state environmental officials in Waterbury, it could also mean different – perhaps more rigid – standards would be put in place.

The Agency of Natural Resources is unlikely to recommend to Gov. James Douglas that he give up Clean Water Act authority, and the EPA might not accept the return of the authority – and the work – if requested. But it may become necessary if the state, environmental groups and the feds cannot reach an agreement on how to manage stormwater discharges into five streams in Chittenden County, said Jonathan Wood, secretary of the state environmental agency.
–The Times Argus

L.A. tables referendum on storm water fee
The plan to ask property owners across Los Angeles to quadruple their storm-water pollution cleanup fees over the next five years has been tabled because of concern that it was prepared in haste and might not pass, city officials said.

To get the additional fees in 2010, the City Council had to decide whether to send out more than 800,000 mail-in ballots — a process rarely, if ever, used citywide.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he feared that the plan, which became public only over the last week, would experience the same fate as Measure B, the solar energy plan defeated in the March 3 election after critics said it had been hurried to the ballot.

“It’s going to get killed, for now,” said Garcetti after discussing the plan at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.
–The Los Angeles Times

California grape growers question water reuse
When Jason Passalacqua, a Dry Creek Valley winery owner, heard about a plan to use highly treated wastewater to irrigate his vineyards, he thought it was a good idea.

“When I first heard about reuse, I thought, ‘Great,’ ” he said.

But he now considers the plan to use wastewater to grow grapes a “threat to the environment” of Dry Creek Valley and its world-class wines.

Passalacqua belongs to a coalition of grape growers, winemakers, environmentalists and others opposed to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s plan for a $385 million project that could ship recycled water primarily from Santa Rosa’s regional sewage treatment plant to northern Sonoma County for agricultural use.
–Santa Rosa Press Democrat