Asian carp, atrazine and the U.S. water supply

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the reports in their entirety where they originally were publised.

White House steps into Asian Carp fight
The Obama administration and Illinois urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to order the closure of Chicago-area locks and waterways, a step sought by neighboring states to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

 The administration said the “dramatic steps” sought by states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota weren’t warranted to prevent the fish from migrating into Lake Michigan.

 “The possibility that Asian carp will move into the Great Lakes is a matter of great concern to the United States, and federal agencies are undertaking concerted, collaborative efforts to combat that risk,” U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, told the justices in papers filed in Washington.

Last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox sued Illinois in the Supreme Court, saying the Asian carp is an aggressive species that could “devastate” the lakes’ native fish population and ruin the region’s $7 billion fishing and tourism industries.
–Bloomberg News 

Groups urge independent study of atrazine 
Almost a dozen Midwestern family-farm groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency to give greater weight to independent science as the agency undertakes a re-evaluation of a popular and controversial weed killer.

The groups said that when the EPA last reviewed the health effects of atrazine in 2003, it held dozens of closed-door meetings with Syngenta, the herbicide’s primary manufacturer, and then approved its continued use.

In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the groups cited health concerns about atrazine and said only a completely transparent process would serve the public and the environment.

 Since atrazine hit the U.S. market a half-century ago, it has become one of the most widely used herbicides, with an estimated 76 million pounds used each year, primarily on corn and in the Upper Midwest. In recent years, it has been found in surface water, groundwater and public water systems.

Many scientists consider atrazine an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interact with the hormone system and cause health problems at low exposure levels. Its use is banned in Europe and unsuccessful attempts have been made to restrict or ban its use in Minnesota.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 America’s dwindling water supply
In its Where America Stands series, CBS News is looking at a broad spectrum of issues facing this country in the new decade. 

Here is the series’ installment on United State water supplies

Americans are the world’s biggest water consumers. By 9 a.m., after showering, using the bathroom, brushing our teeth and having a cup of coffee, each of us typically has used more than 30 gallons of water.

After doing the dishes – 12 gallons per load – running the washing machine – 43 gallons per load – and watering the lawn – 10 gallons per minute – by the time we go to bed, we’ve used up to 150 gallons.

By comparison, people in the U.K. use a quarter of that – 40 gallons of water a day. The Chinese average just 22 gallons per day. And in the poorest countries like Kenya, people use less than the minimum 13 gallons to cover basic needs.

Because Americans use so much, the report card shows water is an emerging crisis here.
–CBS News

New scrutiny for chemical secrecy
Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision. 

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to. 

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.
–The Washington Post

EPA backs mountain-top mining permit
The Environmental Protection Agency came out in support of a permit for one West Virginia mountaintop coal-mining operation and suggested it might endorse another permit for the largest such operation in Appalachia.

 The EPA announcements continue the Obama administration’s up-and-down stance on mountaintop coal mining, which involves blasting off mountaintops to get at the coal underneath. Environmentalists oppose the practice, because they say it permanently damages the land and pollutes streams. Mining companies say the practice is safer and cheaper than traditional underground mining.

The EPA said it decided to support a permit sought by Patriot Coal Corp.’s Hobet Mining LLC after talks with the company “resulted in additional significant protections against environmental impacts.” Patriot Chief Executive Richard Whiting said he was “hopeful” the company could begin work in the area “in the very near future.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must issue the permit.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Groundwater issue lingers for 3M
3M Co. has been claiming for years that its chemicals in water don’t hurt anyone.

 But it turns out they are harmful — to 3M itself.

 The company is now facing an unexpected backlash based on the PFCs — perfluorochemicals — in drinking water. It has erupted in a dispute that has nothing to do with water quality — a routine permit change for an incinerator.

“This isn’t about the incinerator at all, as much as the water pollution,” said Myron Bailey, mayor of Cottage Grove, the home of the incinerator. “It does not matter what 3M thinks. What matters is that people are concerned, and rightly so.”

The company announced in May that it wanted to burn material from non-3M sources in its 38-year-old incinerator. Neighbors objected — citing the water pollution as much as the potential air pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Utah and Nevada close to groundwater deal
Utah and Nevada officials say they’re ready to sign a deal splitting border groundwater in the Snake Valley despite opposition from members of a new Utah advisory board set up to study the plan.

The Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council met at the Utah Capitol to review public comments about the deal, which effectively grants Nevada the water that a Las Vegas utility wants for a proposed pipeline supplying the city. After discussing those comments, board members themselves voiced their misgivings but learned that a final agreement is imminent.

That dismayed Kathy Hill, a Snake Valley teacher whose husband, Ken, is an advisory council member. She told the council the states’ rush to enter an agreement shakes her faith in government. Rural residents are being sold out as Nevada seeks its Vegas pipeline and Utah seeks Nevada’s blessing for one from Lake Powell to St. George, she alleged.
–The Salt Lake Tribune 

Pennsylvania man builds Afghani water supplies
Aldo Magazzeni leans across the table in his farmhouse kitchen and explains why, when it comes to supplying clean water to thousands of impoverished Afghanis, small really is beautiful. 

During the last five years, the 60-year-old co-owner of a New Jersey manufacturing firm has arranged for some 75,000 people in remote areas of Afghanistan to be connected to community water systems.

His efforts helped to end the toil of fetching water and to reduce water-borne diseases, particularly among children. 

The key to his success, he says, is not large sums of money or the involvement of international aid organizations, but his willingness to cultivate relationships with communities and to persuade them to donate the labor that has reduced costs to a fraction of what a commercial contractor would charge.

CIA and scientists team up
The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis. 

The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.
— The New York Times

Invasive species add to extinction of endangered animals
As 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, gets under way, a fight against some of the most damaging invasive species in US waterways is heating up. 

The UN says some experts put the rate at which species are disappearing at 1,000 times the natural rate, and invasive species – which consume the food or habitat of native species, or the native species themselves – are one factor contributing to this acceleration. Climate change is another major factor. 

“Often it will be the combination of climate change and [invasive] pests operating together that will wipe species out,” says Tim Low of the Australia-based Invasive Species Council. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that 38% of the 44,838 species catalogued on its Red List are “threatened with extinction” – and at least 40% of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known are the result of invasive species.
— The Guardian

Coast Guard preparing invasive species rules
Twenty years after the pervasive zebra mussel was first detected in the Great Lakes, the U.S. Coast Guard is preparing rules to prevent new invasive species from infiltrating the nation’s freshwater systems.

Ecologists, environmentalists and public officials have mixed feelings about the rules. Some expressed their sentiments during a public comment period that ended earlier last month. 

While they are delighted over the prospect of the first national standard for treating ship ballast water — the main conveyor of invasive species — they’re disappointed by the timetable.
— Ganette Washington Bureau 

Arctic may face warmer temperatures in future
There is increased evidence that the Arctic could face seasonally ice-free conditions and much warmer temperatures in the future.

Scientists documented evidence that the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas were too warm to support summer sea ice during the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3 to 3 million years ago). This period is characterized by warm temperatures similar to those projected for the end of this century, and is used as an analog to understand future conditions.

 The U.S. Geological Survey found that summer sea-surface temperatures in the Arctic were between 10 to 18°C (50 to 64°F) during the mid-Pliocene, while current temperatures are around or below 0°C (32°F).

 Examining past climate conditions allows for a true understanding of how Earth’s climate system really functions. USGS research on the mid-Pliocene is the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period. This will help refine climate models, which currently underestimate the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic. To read the full article, click here.
— USGS Press Release

EU ministers consider endocrine disruptors
The European Union’s 27 environment ministers recently asked the European Commission to determine whether legislative action is needed to protect human health from exposure to multiple chemicals. So-called “chemical cocktails,” the combined effects of chemicals that seem safe in isolation but may present health risks when absorbed together, were identified by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas last June as a large future challenge on the global chemicals agenda, according to the EU.

The European Environment and Health Strategy (SCALE) and the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health (2004-2010) also state the combined exposure of chemicals should be addressed in risk assessments. 

Under REACH, the EU’s chemicals legislation, risk assessments are made on a chemical-by-chemical basis with little consideration given to combined effects. However, this gap occurred because “there has been insufficient knowledge of the matter to date, a situation which is now changing,” said Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, environment counselor at the Swedish Representation to the EU.
–Occupational Safety and Health

 Farm groups question USDA staffing
Farming groups in Maryland and Virginia are voicing concern over the recent sudden reassignment of a federal agriculture official whom they saw as their champion in the struggle over ramping up the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.  Some have even suggested she was yanked because she was questioning how much farmers needed to do to clean up the bay.  But the official’s boss says there was nothing nefarious in her being pulled – she was simply needed elsewhere. 

Dana York, a senior manager with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, had been working since last spring as a senior advisor to the bay program in the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Annapolis. But late last month she was ordered back to Washington to take on a new assignment. 

Her reassignment prompted letters from the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., which represents chicken growers and producers, and the Virginia Grain Producers Association. In a letter to growers, Bill Satterfield, executive director of the poultry group, called York’s reassignment “a big blow” to farmers’ ability to cope with the Obama administration’s moves to ramp up bay restoration efforts, including proposals to expand regulation of poultry and other livestock farms.
–The Baltimore Sun