USDA earmarks $320 million for Mississippi

Ag Dept. to spend $320 million on Mississippi
The river that begins as a trickle in Itasca State Park and ends 2,350 miles later at the Gulf of Mexico will get a $320 million infusion from the federal government to improve water quality.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a program that will provide the money over the next four years to Minnesota and 11 other states in the Mississippi River basin.

Calling the river “a critical national resource,” Vilsack said the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will attempt to reduce excessive nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms that enters the river through its tributaries and creates a “dead zone” each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrients cause vast algae blooms that eventually die, sink to the bottom and are consumed by bacteria that rob the water of most of its oxygen.
–The Star Tribune

California water rights to be auctioned
Need more water? If you’ve got $30 million or so, you can bid for it at an auction this fall.

In what officials believe is a first for the state, a Southern California water agency is planning to auction off enough water to supply about 70,000 homes for a year.

Water sales are not uncommon in California, especially when supplies are tight, as they are in the current drought.

But putting water up for bid in an auction — which is bound to drive up the price — appears to be unprecedented in the state.
–The Los Angeles Times

Report predicts faster temperature rise
Climate researchers now predict the planet will warm by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century even if the world’s leaders fulfill their most ambitious climate pledges, a much faster and broader scale of change than forecast just two years ago, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program.

The new overview of global warming research, aimed at marshaling political support for a new international climate pact by the end of the year, highlights the extent to which recent scientific assessments have outstripped the predictions issued by the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.

Robert Corell, who chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report’s scientific findings, said the significant global temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.
–The Washington Post

Warming temperatures stabilize – perhaps briefly
World leaders who met at the United Nations to discuss climate change are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.

The plateau in temperatures has been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that the threat of global warming is overblown. And some climate experts worry that it could hamper treaty negotiations and slow the progress of legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Scientists say the pattern of the last decade — after a precipitous rise in average global temperatures in the 1990s — is a result of cyclical variations in ocean conditions and has no bearing on the long-term warming effects of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere.
–The New York Times

Bloomington residents want groundwater for lake
Bloomington city officials and residents who live around Lower Penn Lake are again tussling over how to improve the water quality and appearance of the 32-acre lake.

The city’s new draft management plan for the lake left many residents cold when it was presented at a neighborhood meeting. In their view, lake levels have dropped to unacceptably low levels since state law limited the use of a well that taps an aquifer to raise the lake’s level.

The proposed plan makes it clear that the city and the state are unwilling to permit pumping again from the aquifer beyond 10 million gallons a year. A few years ago, 20 times that much water was routinely added to the lake.
–The Star Tribune

Invasive mussels found at Isle Royale
Foreign mussels may have found their way to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, a potential threat to native species on the remote island chain, an official said.

Divers found a small colony of perhaps two dozen suspicious mussels last week in Washington Harbor on the west side of the 45-mile-long park, Superintendent Phyllis Green said. A single mussel was found on the east side.

Staffers believe they are either zebra mussels or their relatives, quagga mussels. Both are invasive species that originated in the Black and Caspian seas in Eastern Europe and hitched rides to the Great Lakes in ballast tanks of oceangoing freighters in the 1980s.
–The Associated Press

Invasive spiny waterfleas found in Mille Lacs
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Aitkin Area Fisheries staff discovered spiny waterfleas in Lake Mille Lacs recently. The discovery of this invasive species is the first outside of Lake Superior and the U.S.-Canadian border waters, such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake.

Spiny waterflea impacts to lake ecosystems are largely unknown. The waterfleas compete with small fish for food called zooplankton. While larger fish eat them, tiny fish may not be able to consume this invader. In certain types of lakes, they can change the species and numbers of zooplankton, which may harm those lake ecosystems.

However the waterfleas can collect in masses, sticking to fishing lines, downrigger  cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only 1/4 to 5/8 inch long.
–DNR News Release

Public TV airs National Park documentary
“Minnesota’s National Park Legacy,” a 30-minute television special will be broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt2) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. It explores the natural and cultural legacy of Minnesota’s six national park sites: Grand Portage National Monument, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, North Country National Scenic Trail, Pipestone National Monument, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Voyageurs National Park, as well as projects completed by the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.

The film, produced by tpt and the national park sites, will also air on tpt’s statewide Minnesota Channel (tptMN in the Twin Cities) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.

tpt new release

Tiny research sub tested in Lake Superior
If you happen to come across a small yellow submarine off Two Harbors in Lake Superior, University of Minnesota Duluth researchers ask that you leave it alone. It’s theirs.

Scientists at UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory released the first remote electric submarine in the Great Lakes and, so far, it’s working just fine.

The 7-foot-long vessel was launched off UMD’s research boat, the Blue Heron. The submarine has no propeller but moves forward, and can change depths, by changing its buoyancy. It navigates under water by compass and surfaces every three hours for any new orders and to take a GPS fix.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota wetlands losses outpace restoration
State and federal officials are using science to help target areas for wetland restoration as part of the state’s 50-year plan to add 2 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the state; however, even though Minnesota is spending millions to restore wetlands, the state is still losing more than it restores.

The western third of Minnesota was once covered with wetlands; hundreds of thousands of small potholes and large marshes.

Now, more than 90 percent are drained.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Experiment to inject greenhouse gas into the Earth
Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.

A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millenniums rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant.

The experiment is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide.
–The New York Times

Mississippi swing bridge project gets help
The plan to transform the century-old Rock Island Swing Bridge into a recreational pier in Inver Grove Heights received a boost when state officials agreed to pay for the removal of three piers and a guardrail.

State transportation officials told city officials they will pick up the tab to remove the parts from the Mississippi River bridge — a necessary step in the $2.4 million project to convert what’s left of its western end into a pedestrian walkway and overlook.

“We consider it a big deal,” said Eric Carlson, parks and recreation director. “We think it’s going to cost somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 to remove these parts of the bridge, which our project budget cannot absorb.”

Carlson said the state’s financial commitment also helps the city’s chances of meeting a Nov. 13 deadline for submitting documents needed to secure a $1.3 million federal grant for the project.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Arenic afflicts wells, rivers in India
There is more potentially bad news involving arsenic and Bangladesh, where contaminated groundwater has affected millions of people.

Wells that have been dug into relatively shallow aquifers produce drinking water with levels of arsenic far above those considered safe.

But not all of the water ends up in wells. During the dry season, some of it discharges into major rivers, and now a study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that river sediments have become heavily contaminated with arsenic, with the potential to contaminate groundwater even further.

–The New York Times

Arizona’s faces uncertain water supply
Arizona’s water future won’t be like its past, and the past is bad enough.

Water managers only recently came to terms with the fact that their predictions of future water supply were based on incomplete historical records that did not reckon with periodic decade-long droughts and at least one that lasted half a century.

At a conference of water and climate scientists put on by the University of Arizona, water managers from Arizona’s major cities said the future seems even more uncertain with predictions that climate change will further reduce flow from Arizona’s watersheds.
–The Arizona Daily Star

Vietnam peculiarly vulnerable to sea level rise
For centuries, as monsoon rains, typhoons and wars have swept over them and disappeared into the sunshine, the farmers and fishermen of the Mekong Delta have drawn life from the water and fertile fields where the great river ends its 2,700-mile journey to the sea.

The rhythms of life continue from season to season though, like much of the country, the delta is moving quickly into the future, and industry has begun to pollute the air and water.

But everything here, both the timeless and the new, is at risk now from a threat that could bring deeper and longer-lasting disruptions than the generations of warfare that ended more than 30 years ago.

In a worst-case projection, a Vietnamese government report released last month says that more than one-third of the delta, where 17 million people live and nearly half the country’s rice is grown, could be submerged if sea levels rise by three feet in the decades to come.
–The New York Times

Shale drilling yields groundwater worries
Advances in technology have helped boost the growth of shale drilling in the United States over the past few years. But as the practice of harvesting natural gas embedded in shale rock deep below the Earth’s surface has expanded, it has raised concerns about the impact this type of drilling has on the environment — especially on groundwater.

At issue is the practice of “hydraulic fracturing,” which in combination with horizontal drilling is an essential part of the shale gas production process. The shale rock in which the gas is trapped is so tight that it has to be broken in order for the gas to escape. A combination of sand and water laced with chemicals — including benzene — is pumped into the well bore at high pressure, shattering the rock and opening millions of tiny fissures, enabling the shale gas to seep into the pipeline.

This fracturing technique has been in use since 1948, and industry sources say the procedure has been used in a million gas wells in the years since. But the practice has expanded in the past few years as energy companies began exploring shale formations.
–National Public Radio

Exporting Europe’s electronic waste
ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — When two inspectors swung open the doors of a battered red shipping container here, they confronted a graveyard of Europe’s electronic waste — old wires, electricity meters, circuit boards — mixed with remnants of cardboard and plastic.

“This is supposed to be going to China, but it isn’t going anywhere,” said Arno Vink, an inspector from the Dutch environment ministry who impounded the container because of Europe’s strict new laws that place restrictions on all types of waste exports, from dirty pipes to broken computers to household trash.

Exporting waste illegally to poor countries has become a vast and growing international business, as companies try to minimize the costs of new environmental laws, like those here, that tax waste or require that it be recycled or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.
–The New York Times