Atrazine, dairy pollution and sewage rules

EPA considers new rules on atrazine
TheEnvironmental Protection Agency plans to conduct a new study about the potential health risks of atrazine,  a widely used weedkiller that recent research suggests may be more dangerous to humans than previously thought.

Atrazine — a herbicide often used on corn fields, golf courses and even lawns — has become one of the most common contaminants in American drinking water.

For years, the E.P.A. has decided against acting on calls to ban the chemical from environmental activists and some scientists who argued that runoff was polluting ecosystems and harming animals.

More recently, new studies have suggested that atrazine in drinking water is associated with birth defects, low birth weights and reproductive problems among humans, even at concentrations that meet current federal standards.
–The New York Times

Complaints persist about Thief River Falls dairy
Eye-watering plumes from a dairy feedlot north of Thief River Falls are a “health hazard,” say authorities, and when the wind shifts nearby families and children must escape the foul air by evacuating, sometimes in the dead of night. Local elected officials have joined a chorus of residents to demand the site be closed, but for two years feedlot owners have sidestepped cleanup orders they consider “a joke.”

The source of the rancid stench, Excel Dairy, still has a permit to operate, and some who’ve endured the nauseating, rotten-egg smelling hydrogen sulfide rising off manure lagoons are wondering why state authorities aren’t more forceful in stopping it.

Petition challenges MPCA oversight of sewage
An environmental group petitioned the federal government to force the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do what it characterizes as a better job issuing permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy contends the state agency hasn’t taken necessary actions against straight-pipe septic systems that dump raw sewage directly into lakes and rivers. It also says the agency has repeatedly issued weaker permits than required by federal law to governments and businesses discharging phosphorus into those water bodies, resulting in excessive algal growth.

The petition asks the Environmental Protection Agency to require the MPCA to correct those matters or take away its authority to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water permits.

“We’re kind of calling for the ref to say, ‘Just a minute. You have some markers you need to meet here,’ ” said Kris Sigford, the advocacy group’s water quality director.

An MPCA spokeswoman said the agency has not had a chance to review the petition in detail, but she added that it appears the issues already have been addressed by Minnesota courts and the Legislature.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Airlines required to monitor drinking water quality
U.S. airlines will be required to regularly disinfect and monitor on-board drinking water systems under a new rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time tailored existing public water monitoring regulations to commercial aircraft.

The change, five years in the making and affecting 63 airlines and 7,300 planes, will replace interim systems for monitoring bacteria and other pathogens that could sicken passengers.

The EPA expects the annual cost to the industry to be about $7 million.

Fight over septic system ends short of jail
A Chanhassen couple, faced with going to jail after a six-year battle with Carver County over their septic system, decided to throw in the towel.

The decision by Janet and Lowell Carlson to fix the septic system will keep them from going to jail Oct. 16 for contempt of court. Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins last week gave them one final chance to make the repairs, estimated to cost at least $10,000.

After the Carlsons bought their farm in 2003, the county ordered them to upgrade the system, saying that it did not have the required 36 inches of separation between its drain field and groundwater on the property. The couple objected, contending there was no indication that the system was leaking or polluting the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Obama orders federal sustainability push
Urging the government to “lead by example,” President Obama ordered federal agencies to set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy use, save water and recycle more.

The order calls for a 30% cut in vehicle fuel use by 2020, a 50% increase in recycling by 2015 and the implementation of high-efficiency building codes.

It also instructs agencies to set goals within 90 days to reduce the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for global warming.

The measures echo a Los Angeles sustainability program launched under the direction of then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who now heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
–The Los Angeles Times

Big phosphorus reductions needed
Storm water carries so much phosphorus into a chain of lakes in Maple Grove and Plymouth that it may take 20 years to get the three lakes off the state’s impaired waters list.

That’s the finding of a new report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency which describes the extent of the pollution in each lake and what can be done to reverse it. The report begins the process of cleaning up the lakes as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

In Eagle Lake, a 291-acre lake popular for fishing and swimming, phosphorus would have to be reduced by 40 percent to meet Clean Water standards for swimming, the report says.
–The Star Tribune

DNR plans new mineral leases
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will hold the state’s 31st sale of metallic minerals exploration and mining leases, tentatively scheduled for January 2010. The lease sale plans are being announced at this time in order to give mining companies, public interest groups and other interested parties additional time to review the areas under consideration.

The areas under consideration for the lease sale cover portions of Aitkin, Benton, Carlson, Itasca, Morrison, Pine and St. Louis counties. The lands being considered have been offered in previous metallic minerals lease sales, but based on the interest shown by industry, new geologic data, and exploration techniques developed during the past few years, officials think there may be potential for the discovery of mineral resources within these lands.

The exact time and place of the lease sale will be announced by legal notice at least 30 days prior to the sale.

A map showing the general areas under consideration is available from the DNR Division of Lands and Minerals, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4045, by phone at 651-259-5959, or by visiting the DNR Web site.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Hydropower plans submitted for Coon Rapids Dam
Renewed efforts are being made to explore whether the Coon Rapids Dam can once again be used to generate electricity.

The dam produced electricity for Northern States Power (NSP) from 1914 to 1966, at which time operations stopped because it was no longer economical to generate electricity at the dam.

Over the years, studies have been undertaken  from time to time to look at whether it would be feasible to return the dam to hydroelectric use, but not to the point of a project being submitted for approval to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Now, two competing applications for preliminary permits have been submitted to the FERC to study the feasibility of a hydroelectric power project at the dam.

One is from Three Rivers Park District and the other is from BOSTI Hydroelectric LLC, Golden Valley.
–ABC Newspapers

Suburbs seek to emulate Burnsville rain gardens
Even now, with fall rushing toward winter, the handsome gardens along Rushmore Drive in Burnsville draw the eye with their maroon sedums, purple asters and waving ornamental grasses.

All the gardens are near the curb, and all drop a foot or two below street level at their lowest point.

They’re rain gardens.
–The Star Tribune

California agencies adopt water diets
As the state enters its fourth straight year of drought, water agencies are putting in place permanent rules to reduce use even after the rains and snow return.

Their directives are aimed at new and renovated developments, businesses and homes.

“There is not a Californian who won’t be affected,” said Tim Quinn, executive director for the Association of California Water Agencies.

By January, cities statewide are supposed to have regulations that limit the amount of water used for landscape irrigation in future commercial and residential projects. In particular, the developers will have to abide by a water “budget” for each property.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Restoring Wisconsin’s wild rice beds
It was silent, except for the sound of rice seed falling on water as still as a mirror.

John Patrick dug his hand into the 50-pound sack of wild rice, stood up in the canoe and threw, repeating the action until the white bag was empty. Some of the seed, which had been harvested a few days before, floated on the surface of Jackson Box Flowage in Douglas County, while some sank to the brown, nutrient-rich bottom.

“You can see it falling down. They’re like missiles heading straight into the muck,” said Patrick, a Bad River tribal member and wild rice assistant for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Wild rice seeds spiral down, where they grab hold of the bottom, germinate and grow tall above the water until someone or something comes along to dislodge them – a human harvesting the tasty grain, or a duck, muskrat, goose or even white-tailed deer looking for a meal.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Florida ag dept. challenges deal on nutrients
Florida’s agriculture commissioner wants to undo a deal between environmental groups and the federal government that would rewrite an important water pollution rule.

Commissioner Charles Bronson asked a federal judge last week to let the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services join an ongoing lawsuit and fight the agreement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed in August to set clear-cut numeric limits on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus – the nutrients that feed algae in the St. Johns River – allowed in Florida’s rivers and creeks. Florida uses rules that describe what’s allowed, but not nutrient numbers.

Agriculture officials say what’s planned is scientifically unsound and could put some farmers out of business by raising costs to manage fertilizer and animal manure.
–The Florida Times-Union

Carleton, Mac and UM honored for sustainability

Carleton College is one of only 26 higher education institutions nationwide to receive an A- on the College Sustainability Report Card 2010.

The group rated Carleton an “A” in the categories of food and recycling, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, and investment priorities. The report card graded Carleton a “B” in administration, climate change, and energy and green building.

Carleton was one of three Minnesota higher education institutions to receive an overall “A-“ grade, joined by Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, on the top-performers list. Carleton has received a top grade of “A-“ the last three years, the only Minnesota school to earn that distinction.
–Carleton news release

Exxon appeals verdict in gasoline leak
Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil company found responsible for a 26,000-gallon leak of gasoline into the groundwater of a northern Baltimore County neighborhood in 2006, filed an appeal  of a trial verdict that awarded $150 million to a group of residents affected by the spill.

“We agree with the jury’s finding that this incident was an unfortunate accident and not a fraudulent or intentional act,” said Kevin M. Allexon, a spokesman for the company. “We believe, however, that compensation should be limited to actual harm caused by the spill, and the jury’s verdict goes well beyond reasonable compensation.”

Neighbors of the Jacksonville service station from which the leak originated filed suit against Exxon when it became clear that the area’s groundwater, which supplies homeowners’ wells and household needs, had been contaminated by the leak.
–The Baltimore Sun