Climate change, 'ugly' species and catching rain

Every week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and interntional news articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

U.S. House passes cap-and-trade


The House passed legislation intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy. 

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

 The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

 At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.

–The New York Times

Savings species moves past beauty contests

Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

 When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah’s Ark: Save everything.

 But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

 The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

–The Washington Post 

Colorado legalizes catching the rain

For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. 

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

–The New York Times

 Marines expand ‘gray water’ use

Camp Pendleton officials formally dedicated an upgraded water treatment system that includes one of Southern California’s most ambitious uses of recycled water.

 As part of a $48.8-million upgrade, treated wastewater will now be used on landscaping, horse pastures and the base golf course. Plans are to expand the water use to carwashes and to toilet facilities in enlisted quarters.

 The goal is to decrease the amount of fresh water used on the sprawling base and the amount of so-called gray water pumped into the Pacific Ocean.

 The base uses 6,000 to 7,000 acre-feet of water each year, most of it from wells and the San Luis Rey River. An acre-foot of water is enough for two families for a year.

The facilities unveiled have a capacity to provide 1,700 acre-feet a year of treated wastewater to sites throughout the base.

–The Los Angeles Times .

Sewage flows to L. Superior to end by 2016

Untreated sewage in Lake Superior should become a thing of the past in the Duluth area, but not for another seven years.

The city and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) have committed to end sewage overflows by the end of 2016, and to pay $400,000 in fines to state and federal pollution authorities for past violations.

 The overflows typically are caused by backups during heavy rain.

–The Star Tribune

Winona County dairy fined for pollution

Diamond K Dairy in Winona County has agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating state standards for odors and for allowing manure to discharge to a farm pond.  The dairy has taken some correction action with further plans to reduce odors and better control manure.

 The dairy, located in Mount Vernon Township near Altura, consists of six total confinement barns housing up to 1,066 dairy cows and 30 dairy calves.  The facility has three manure-storage basins, a manure solids stacking area, a dead animal composting area, and two feed-storage areas.  Owned by Al Kreidermacher and family members, the facility operates under the names of Diamond K Dairy, Inc. and Diamond K Feeds LLP.

Using continuous air-monitoring equipment, MPCA staff found that the facility violated state levels for hydrogen sulfide several times during 2008.  Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that is partially responsible for foul odors. 

 Also in 2008, the dairy allowed two spills of liquid manure to flow overland to a farm pond on the property.  The pond, classified as a water of the state, connects via a spillway to a trout stream less than a mile away, though none of the spilled manure reached the stream.

 The MPCA posts its enforcement actions at

–MPCA news release

 Art sought for exhibit on women and water rights

The University of Minnesota Department of Art and other sponsors are inviting artists to submit work – including postcard-size, mailed-in works – for an exhibit focused on women and the issue of water as a universal human right.

 The exhibit, titled “Women and Water Rights,” will be held Feb. 23 to March 25 at the university’s Regis Center for Art. It will include:

  • A worldwide mail art exhibit on the theme of water and related programs.
  • A juried exhibition of artwork investigating water rights as subject and material. Artists will be women or women/men collaborations from states that form the basin of the Upper Mississippi River — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Lectures.
  • Panel discussions, video screenings and interactive activities.

The deadline for submission of art for the juried exhibit is Nov. 2. The deadline for the mailed art is Jan. 15. Entry guidelines are available at

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae

When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people that some blue-green algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

 Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae can become harmful. Blue-green (cyanobacterial) algal blooms contain toxins or other noxious chemicals that can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing these toxins.

 There is no visual way to predict the toxicity of an algal bloom and distinguishing blue-green algae from other types may be difficult for non-experts. But harmful blooms are sometimes said to look like pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum.

They often smell bad as well. “You don’t have to be an expert to recognize water that might have a harmful algae bloom,” said Steve Heiskary, an MPCA lakes expert. “If it looks bad and smells bad, it’s probably best not to take chances with it.”

–MPCA news release

 Law requires conservation pricing in Twin Cities

When you brush your teeth, do you keep the water running? What about when you shave or do the dishes? That’s the kind of question homeowners may start asking themselves when their water bills arrive.

By the end of this year, all metro water utilities have to start charging for water in a way that encourages conservation. It’s part of a law passed in 2008.

Compared to a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk, water is cheap. In St. Louis Park, it costs less than a fraction of a penny per gallon. That may be why some people use it so freely.



Researcher questions mercury health risk

Researchers at the University of North Dakota say there’s new evidence that mercury levels in fish are not as dangerous as previously thought.

 Researchers at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks say the trace mineral selenium is just as important as the amount of mercury in fish.

 Research Scientist Nick Ralston said brain damage from mercury poisoning happens when mercury depletes selenium in the body. He said if fish contain more selenium than mercury, they are safe to eat.

He wants to see a new standard for fish consumption advisories.

 Minnesota’s fish consumption advisory coordinator is not convinced. Patricia McCann said the new research is not definitive and will not affect how Minnesota establishes fish consumption advisories.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Cuyahoga: A river, and a symbol, reborn

The first time Gene Roberts fell into the Cuyahoga River, he worried he might die. The year was 1963, and the river was still an open sewer for industrial waste. Walking home, Mr. Roberts smelled so bad that his friends ran to stay upwind of him.

Recently, Mr. Roberts returned to the river carrying his fly-fishing rod. In 20 minutes, he caught six smallmouth bass. “It’s a miracle,” said Mr. Roberts, 58. “The river has come back to life.”

June 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.

–The New York Times

Chicago skyscraper to go green

Wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels will join the pair of antennas atop the Sears Tower’s staggered rooftops, said building officials who announced that the skyscraper would undergo a $350 million green renovation.

The 5-year project would reduce the tower’s electricity use by 80 percent and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said. Separately, a 50-story, 500-room privately funded luxury hotel with its own green components would be built next to the skyscraper in 3 1/2 to 5 years.

The green project includes the installation of solar panels on the tower’s 90th floor roof to heat water used in the building. Different types of wind turbines will be positioned on the tower’s tiered roofs and tested for efficiency. And between 30,000 and 35,000 square feet of roof gardens will be planted.

–The Chicago Tribune

 Device may protect sea turtles from nets

Fishery managers trying to protect rare sea turtles from dying in fishing nets have chosen a Cape Cod company to build a device that they think can help balance turtle protection with profitable fishing.

 The device is a 7-inch silver cylinder that attaches to fishing nets and records how long they stay underwater. Time is crucial if the nets, dragged behind trawlers, snare a turtle. Federal research indicates that the vast majority of sea turtles survive entanglement, but only if the net is pulled up in less than 50 minutes.

–The New York Times

 Water a key issue in Mideast negotiations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must address the vital issue of water in the West Bank if meaningful peace talks are to take place.

 Israel’s leaders said nothing, but Abbas had touched on one of the most sensitive issues in the seemingly endless negotiations, which have been in abeyance for the last few years, and one on which any expectation of a comprehensive settlement will probably ultimately rest.

Israel’s unilateral control over rivers and aquifers meant scarce water resources were not being shared equitably “as required by international law,” he declared.

–United Press International