Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of regional, national and international articles and research about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in the sources where they originally were published.
Spikes in weed killer concentrations found
For decades, farmers, lawn care workers and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses and manicured lawns.
But atrazine often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.
Now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems.
An investigation by The New York Times has found that in some towns, atrazine concentrations in drinking water have spiked, sometimes for longer than a month. But the reports produced by local water systems for residents often fail to reflect those higher concentrations.
–The New York Times
Atrazine disrupts rat reproduction, study finds
The common and highly-used herbicide atrazine can act within the brain to disrupt the cascade of hormone signals needed to initiate ovulation, finds a study with rats published online in the journal Biology of Reproduction. Ovulation is a complex process that begins in the brain and ends with the release of eggs from the ovary. This new study finds that exposure to atrazine can interrupt this process but once the exposure ends, normal function resumes in a few days. The results shed new light on the way atrazine affects the female reproductive system and the persistence of these effects when adults are exposed.
–Environmental Health News
Learn about freshwater mussels
Join the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance on August 28-29 for a fascinating presentation on the mussel world in Minnesota. Mike Davis and Bernard Sietman of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, experts in this field will give a close-up view of this rarely seen and understood native species.
• At 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, there will be a presentation at the Ney Nature Center outside of Henderson (28003 Nature Center Lane).
• At 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, take a mussel hike in the Le Sueur River at Red Jacket Park (2.5 miles south of Mankato off of State Highway 66). Be prepared to get wet and dirty!
Mike Davis has worked for the MN DNR since 1987 and specializes in freshwater mussel ecology, in particular on the Mississippi River. As part of the mussel conservation effort, Mike has played a major role in the federal plan to revive the endangered Higgins Eye mussel. Today, the Higgins Eye is one of the 25 of 48 mussel species listed as either: Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern in Minnesota.
Found across the globe, freshwater mussels or clams reach their greatest diversity in North America at around 300 species. Mussel populations have seen a decline in abundance and diversity because of human influences. This devastating loss is the result of dam construction, stream channelization, water pollution and sedimentation, over harvesting, and the introduction of exotic zebra mussels.
Mussels are considered to be the biological indicators of a river’s health and increasingly being regarded as the aquatic “canaries of the coal mine.” They are an important part of the ecosystem by providing food for fish, birds, and mammals. They have evolved a unique parasitic reproductive system with fish serving as the host during the larval stage of the mussel.
–-The Jordan Independent
Household pesticide use underestimated
Pesticides and fertilizers from homes are a major and overlooked source of water pollution, according to new research from the University of California, Davis. Previous estimates may have underestimated water pollution from homes by up to 50%, the study says.
Researchers monitored homes in eight different neighborhoods in California, and say that the estimates likely extend to households across the country.
Pesticides, particularly for ant control, were the most common source of pollution. Surprisingly, pesticides made from organophosphate chemicals, which have been off the market in California since 2002, turned up in many of the samples.
“We expected to find pesticides, but I think we were surprised at how consistently we found them,” says Lorence Oki, a landscape expert who lead the research.
Mercury taints every stream tested by USGS
Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.
About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.
“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”
Some of the highest levels of mercury in fish were found in the tea-colored or “blackwater” streams in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — areas associated with relatively undeveloped forested watersheds containing abundant wetlands compared to the rest of the country. High levels of mercury in fish also were found in relatively undeveloped watersheds in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Elevated levels are noted in areas of the Western United States affected by mining. Complete findings of the USGS report, as well as additional detailed studies in selected streams, are available online.
–U.S. Gelogical Survey new release
Water issues top concerns worldwide
What is the latest and most important environmental concern these days? Global warming? Disappearing ice caps and rain forests? Reliance on non-renewable energy?
Wrong. According to a new survey sponsored by Molson Coors Brewing Co, water pollution ranked No. 1, followed by fresh water shortages, depletion of natural resources, air pollution and loss of animal and plant species.
The survey was commissioned by Circle of Blue, a nonprofit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, a water and climate think tank. It polled people in 15 countries, including the United States, Mexico, China and India, about their views on water issues including sustainability, management and conservation.
Molson Coors, maker of Coors Light and Molson Canadian beers, sponsored the survey as a first step in trying to understand how people in international markets — where it hopes to expand its business — view water.
Minneapolis arsenic cleanup continues
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at nearly 500 South Minneapolis homes will begin after Labor Day. This project is supported by $20 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Residents pay nothing for the cleanup.
From 2004 to 2008, an EPA Superfund team cleaned up 197 properties with arsenic levels above 95 parts per million, or ppm, at the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination Site. The work beginning in September targets properties with lower levels of contamination.
The South Minneapolis Superfund site encompasses a number of neighborhoods near the intersection of 28th Street and Hiawatha Avenue where the CMC Heartland Lite Yard was located from about 1938 to 1968. A pesticide containing arsenic was produced there and material from an open-air railcar-unloading and product-mixing operation is believed to have been wind-blown into nearby neighborhoods. Since 2004, EPA has collected soil samples from more than 3,000 properties in the area.
For more information on the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination Superfund Site, click here.
–EPA news release
Plastic breaks down – and pollutes – in oceans
Amidst waves and wildlife in the world’s oceans, billions of pounds of Styrofoam, water bottles, fishing wire and other plastic products float in endless circles.
This bobbing pollution is more than just an eyesore or a choking hazard for birds. According to a new study, plastic in the oceans can decompose in as little as a year, leaching chemical compounds into the water that may harm the health of animals and possibly even people.
“Most people in the world believe that this plastic is indestructible for a very long time,” said Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University in Chiba, Japan. He spoke this week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.
Nestle gets OK to bottle Colorado water
The world’s largest beverage company has won approval from officials in Colorado to extract and bottle spring water from the mountains of south central Colorado.
Nestle Waters North America may draw 65 million gallons of water a year from a spring in Chaffee County to sell under its Arrowhead brand, county commissioners decided.
The proposal elicited fierce opposition from many residents, who feared the company would deplete the local aquifer and that its trucks hauling the water to Denver would snarl traffic on mountain roads. Others supported the project, saying it could spur economic development in the rural area.
In a concession, Nestle agreed to draw water from one, not two, springs and to place conservation easements on its land and allow access on its property to anglers.
–The Los Angeles Times
Wyoming groundwater drops, report says
Some areas of the Powder River Basin have experienced significant groundwater drawdown – as much as 625 feet between 1993 and 2006 in some areas, according to a new report.
But what the report is missing is analysis to determine whether the impact is in line with federal modeling conducted in 2002.
However, some say the raw data reveals obvious impacts to groundwater supplies.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council issued a statement suggesting that the monitoring data proves the actual groundwater drawdown – largely from the development of coalbed methane gas – far exceeds predictions made by federal officials in 2002.
About 600 million barrels of water are pumped from coal aquifers in the Powder River Basin each year in the production of coalbed methane gas, according to the state. Some of the water is used in irrigation and to water livestock, but a majority of the water – which belongs to the state – is not put to a specific beneficial use.
–The Casper Star-Tribune
Panel OKs continued moose hunt
Minnesota’s moose may be in trouble, but they can still be hunted.
Despite fears that the population is crashing, a special committee reporting to the Department of Natural Resources recommended that the population will hold its own “for the foreseeable future.”
And despite the threat to the species posed by what the committee called “the long-term threat” of climate change, it recommended that moose hunting continue in the northeastern part of the state.
The committee was formed, in part, because moose numbers have declined dramatically in northwestern Minnesota during the past two decades and appear to be dropping in northeast Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune
Lead poisoning provokes Chinese riot
Hundreds of Chinese villagers have broken into a factory that poisoned more than 600 children, reports say.
Villagers tore down fencing and smashed coal trucks at the lead smelting factory in Shaanxi Province.
Local authorities have admitted that the plant is responsible for poisoning the children. More than 150 were in hospital.
Air, soil and water pollution is common in China, which has seen rapid economic growth over the past few decades.
Army Corps builds world’s largest pump
New Orleans sits smack dab between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain, and when a hurricane comes rolling in, those bodies of water tend to spill into the streets. This summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started construction on a barrier that can block a 16-foot swell blown in from the Gulf and a massive pumping station that will blast floodwaters back to sea.
The $500-million station—the newest installment of a $14-billion federal project to fortify the Big Easy against the type of fierce storm the city sees once in 100 years—will protect the 240,000 residents living in New Orleans, a high-risk flood area because of its nearby shipping canals. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is one of the city’s most trafficked industrial waterways, but it provides a perfect path from the Gulf for a 16-foot storm surge to flood homes and businesses. When a major storm threatens, the waterway’s new West Closure Complex will mount a two-point defense. First, operators will shut the 32-foot-tall, 225-foot-wide metal gates to block the surge. Then they’ll fire up the world’s largest pumping station, which pulls 150,000 gallons of floodwater per second. And unlike the city’s notorious levees, the WCC won’t break when residents need it most. “This station is designed to withstand almost everything,” including 140mph winds and runaway barges, says Tim Connell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s project manager for the complex.