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 them in their entirety where they originally were published.
Will Steger helps open 2010 – The Year of Water
To educate and inspire people to value, conserve and protect Minnesota’s water resources, the Freshwater Society is launching a yearlong initiative, 2010: The Year of Water, with a free public lecture by Will Steger, noted polar explorer.
Steger will speak on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at a 2010: The Year of Water kickoff event at the Gray Freshwater Center in Excelsior.
A Minnesota native who has led multiple dogsled expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and Antarctica over the last 20 years, Steger now spends most of his time working to educate people, especially young adults, about the threat of global warming.
Steger will speak about his first-hand observations of global warming in polar regions, the impact of climate change on water resources, the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change and the opportunities he sees for Americans to fight global warming and revitalize their economy by dramatically reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.
Steger’s talk is the first of several initiatives planned by Freshwater Society as part of 2010: The Year of Water. Other activities include:
A four-part lecture series, co-sponsored by Freshwater and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, in which national and local experts will discuss major water issues.
- A water conservation curriculum that will encourage many fourth- and fifth-grade students across Minnesota to measure the water they and their families use and consider ways to use less.
- Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality in which clubs, organizations and youth groups throughout Minnesota will be encouraged to combat phosphorus pollution of lakes and rivers by recycling leaves that, otherwise, would wash into storm sewers in the spring and fall.
The Jan. 26 opening event that features Steger’s talk on global warming begins at 7 p.m. at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior. Minn.
The event is open to the public, but seating is limited and pre-registration is required. To register, go to the Freshwater Society Web site: http://www.freshwater.org .
Minnesota atrazine rules are adequate, ag department says
The Minnesota Agriculture Department says state regulations controlling the use of a popular agricultural weedkiller are doing their job.
The department is reviewing the use of atrazine, which is commonly sprayed on cornfields. Nila Hines with the Agriculture Department says monitoring wells near farmland show that the amount of atrazine turning up in groundwater is declining.
“Our environmental and human health regulations are adequate,” Hines said. “So there’s no need to change a specific label or change the registration of atrazine in Minnesota at this time.”
Environmental groups have said atrazine levels in ground water are often too high, and that they pose a health risk.
Samuel Yamin with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy says health studies convince him the limit should be stricter.
–Minnesota Public Radio
To read the report on atrazine rules prepared by the Agriculture Department, the state Health Department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and to learn how you can comment on it, click here.
In a first, EPA sets tough nutrient limits for Florida
In a move cheered by environmental groups, the federal government proposed stringent limits on nutrient pollution allowed to foul Florida’s waterways.
The ruling — which will cost industries and governments more than a billion dollars to comply — marks the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has intervened to set a state’s water-quality standards.
The agency issued the proposed regulations after reaching a settlement in August with five environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
The caps on phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals would replace the state’s vague “narrative” approach to monitoring the effects of waste and fertilizer runoff, which the EPA deemed insufficient. The proposed rule includes provisions giving the EPA oversight authority to enforce the standards.
–The Miami Herald
Evelyn Moyle, nature author and Freshwater board member, dies
Evelyn Wood Moyle, an original board member of the Freshwater Society and the co-author of a premiere guide to Minnesota wildflowers, died recently at age 95. The Star Tribune published a complete obituary describing her longtime devotion to nature.
With her husband, John, she created Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region in 1977. Tom Orjala, senior editor for regional studies and contemporary affairs for the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that the guide became a bible for nature lovers in this region. “It was the book that any enthusiast had in their backpack, on the kitchen table,” Orjala said.
In 2001, she and photographer John Gregor published a revised edition.
Legislators to decide $18 million deal for Lake Vermilion park
The state of Minnesota has reached a deal to buy property on the east edge of Lake Vermilion for a vaunted new state park. But the price is higher than legislators have allowed, and they may not give it their blessing.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that after more than two years of negotiations, U.S. Steel Corp. has agreed to sell the 3,000 undeveloped acres to the state for $18 million in cash. The company values the land at $2.3 million more and would treat that amount as a donation to the state.
But the cash price, while lower than the $20 million in bonding the Legislature set aside for the project two years ago, is still higher than the state’s property appraisal. As a result, the Legislature must agree to lift a price cap that limits the state’s offer to 12 percent above the appraisal.
With the state facing a huge budget deficit, key legislators indicated they may resist lifting the price cap.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Mississippi Makeover open house set
Citizens can learn about the Mississippi Makeover project, the first locally led comprehensive plan for restoring the river south of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, at an open house Thursday, Jan. 28.
The open house will be from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hastings High School, 200 General Sieben Drive.
The river suffers from poor water clarity caused by sediment, algae and other suspended materials. The cloudy water is aesthetically unpleasing to people and harmful to fish, wildlife and aquatic plants. The sediment is also harming Lake Pepin by settling to the lake bottom and making the lake shallower.
The Mississippi Makeover plan focuses on managing the river in the Hastings area and downstream, including building islands, removing rough fish and perhaps temporarily lowering water levels to stimulate plant growth and improve water clarity and river habitats. With funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Dakota County is coordinating this project with assistance from partners including MN Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District, and others.
For more information about the Mississippi Makeover project, contact the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District at 651-480-7784 or www.dakotaswcd.org.
Investment could aid copper mine near Ely
Duluth Metals has announced a partnership with one of the world’s leading copper mining companies, a deal that’s expected to provide money to start an underground mining project south of Ely.
The new deal catapults the low-profile Duluth Metals into prominence after existing in the shadows of Polymet’s better known and more developed copper-nickel mining project.
The new partnership is with Antofagasta PLC, a British company considered one of the world’s leading copper miners. Duluth Metals Chairman Christopher Dundas explained in a conference call that Antofagasta would provide up to $227 million for a 40 percent share of what they call the Nokomis project.
Antofagasta has sales of more than $3 billion and operates large copper mines in Chile as well as rail transportation and water projects. Dundas said the new joint venture will not only speed up the Minnesota mining project; it may get a lot bigger.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Michigan agency OKs Upper Peninsula mine
Michigan regulators have given final approval for construction and operation of a bitterly contested nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.
The Department of Environmental Quality said it has determined the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. project meets the requirements of the state’s mining laws.
The mine would be built in a remote section of Marquette County called the Yellow Dog Plains. Opposition groups say it could pollute groundwater and streams, while mine officials say they’ll protect the local environment.
–The Associated Press
Twins stadium conserves runoff
That brand new Colorado-grown turf in Target Field will be watered with good old-fashioned recycled Minnesota rain water, the Minnesota Twins announced.
The Twins and one of their newest sponsors, Minneapolis-based Pentair Inc., said that the team’s new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis will be the first major sports facility anywhere to be irrigated and washed down with recycled rain water.
The recycling system, designed and installed by Pentair, will collect water from Target Field’s seven acres and drain it into a 100,000-gallon cistern buried below the field. There the water will be disinfected and treated.
–The Star Tribune
Ethanol hurting some bird populations
Government incentives for corn-based ethanol have prompted farmers to convert land for corn production, hurting some grassland bird populations in the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest, a University of Michigan study says.
The study, conducted for the National Wildlife Federation by a team of graduate students, analyzes current and potential impacts of corn ethanol production on wildlife and habitat in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
It shows grassland being turned into cropland at an alarming rate, according to Greg Fogel, the study’s co-author.
The report said the nation’s ethanol production has tripled since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandated a large increase in domestic ethanol production. In addition, it said federal legislation in 2007 requires corn ethanol production to increase from 10.6 billion gallons last year to 15 billion gallons in 2015. The report found 31 federal incentives and mandates to encourage ethanol production.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
In what could be the state’s largest collective gulp of Lake Michigan water in nearly two decades, 10 suburbs are seeking approval to tap the vast but closely guarded natural resource.
With groundwater supplies drying up and vulnerable to contamination, the Lake County communities that now rely on wells are casting envious eyes on that tantalizingly close supply — the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world. They propose spending $250 million to lay about 57 miles of pipe and take other steps that would bring Lake Michigan water to the western part of Lake County.
It would be the largest diversion since the early 1990s and may spur criticism from other states that adjoin the Great Lakes, which brim with nearly 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water. The move comes at the same time that Michigan and other states are battling Illinois in U.S. Supreme Court over whether it’s doing enough to halt the potential invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.
The carp fight has no bearing on Lake County’s request for water, but the application could fuel further animosities — especially because other states face much more stringent barriers to Great Lakes water than Illinois.
–The Chicago Tribune
Illinois officials seek to allay carp fears
On a day when federal officials acknowledged the presence of Asian carp DNA closer to Lake Michigan than previously thought, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state lawmakers attempted to calm fears and assure political forces around the Great Lakes that the invasive fish problem was under control.
“We are not in denial about the threat of this invasive species,” Durbin said at a packed news briefing at the Shedd Aquarium. “For at least the last 10 years, maybe longer, we’ve been actively dealing with this.”
Michigan’s attorney general sued Illinois in the U.S. Supreme Court last month, seeking the closing of navigational locks and dams in the Chicago region to seal off Lake Michigan from the voracious Asian carp. Environmental DNA sampling had previously indicated that the carp, which have steadily moved up Chicago’s waterways since at least the 1990s, had bypassed an electronic underwater barrier near Lockport and were within about six miles of the lake.
–The Chicago Tribune
Group seeks limits on endocrine disruptors
Citing the decline in frogs and rise of “frankenfish,” a Bay Area environmental group filed a legal petition Monday for tighter federal standards on pollutants that disrupt the hormones of humans and wildlife.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Environmental Agency to beef up criteria under the Clean Water Act for pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other endocrine disruptors that leak through the water-treatment process and contaminate groundwater and drinking-water supplies.
“We’ve found that a very small concentration of these chemicals can have profound reproductive effects,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.
–The San Francisco Chronicle
DNR proposes five new muskie waters
In response to growing interest in muskellunge fishing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering the stocking of muskie in five new waters starting in the fall of 2011.
The four lakes and a river are: Roosevelt Lake in Cass and Crow Wing counties; Upper South Long Lake and Lower South Long Lake in Crow Wing County; Tetonka Lake in Le Sueur County; and the Sauk River Chain in Stearns County.
“All of these waters meet or exceed the biological and physical criteria for muskie management,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR acting fisheries chief.
The muskie is one of Minnesota’s largest fish, growing to more than 50 pounds and more than 50 inches in length. Anglers have become increasingly interested in the so-called “fish of 10,000 casts” now that 50-plus inch fish can be caught in Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Vermillion and other waters that have been stocked since the 1980s.
–DNR news release
Narrow Bering Strait has big impact on climate
At 50 miles wide, the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia, hardly seems like a major player in Earth’s climate.
But a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience concludes that this shallow strait between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans has played a large role in climate fluctuations during recent ice ages. Depending on whether it’s closed or open, the strait dramatically changes the distribution of heat around the planet.
When sea levels decline enough that water can no longer flow from the Pacific to the Arctic through the strait, the North Atlantic responds by growing warmer. That warmth is strong enough to melt ice sheets and temporarily reverse the glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere.
–The Christian Science Monitor
Obsolete California dam to be razed
In what could be the largest dam removal project ever completed in California, government officials and a Monterey water company agreed to tear down the 106-foot-tall San Clemente Dam. The move is a victory for endangered steelhead trout which for decades have been blocked from their spawning grounds by the obsolete concrete structure on the Carmel River.
The signed agreement ended more than 10 years of study and debate and sets in motion an $84 million project. The dam closure — a formidable engineering and biological enterprise — is expected to be watched by scientists and water managers around the United States.
Built in 1921, San Clemente Dam once stored drinking water for thousands of people around the Monterey Peninsula. It irrigated golf courses and helped run clanking sardine canneries.
But today its reservoir is 90 percent silted up, choked with sand and mud. And the dam doesn’t provide electricity or flood protection.
–San Jose Mercury News
Lake Erie studied for wind energy
The most consistent and unchecked winds in Ohio are found off the state’s northern coast: above Lake Erie.
That’s why Cuyahoga County leaders are pushing a $92 million project to build three to eight turbines three to five miles off Cleveland’s coast.
The pilot project would, depending on the size of the turbines, produce 5 to 20 megawatts, enough electricity to power 9,000 to 12,000 houses.
Supporters would like to see the 260-foot-high turbines operating by 2013 and want the project to be the first offshore wind development in the United States, spokesman A. Steven Dever of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force said.
–The Akron Beacon Journal
Wisconsin hearings set on ag runoff
Proposals to further reduce Wisconsin’s runoff pollution are the topic of public hearings statewide later this month and February. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the updates are aimed at reducing toxic blue green algae blooms, fish kills, contaminated wells and other problems fueled by pollutants running off urban areas and farm fields and entering Wisconsin lakes, rivers and groundwater.
Major provisions of the proposed rule changes seek to reduce the potential of croplands, pastures and winter grazing areas that contribute phosphorus to Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and groundwater. Farmers would have to meet a maximum average level of phosphorus allowed to come off their fields, with that average calculated over an eight-year period.
The DNR estimates that 80 percent of farmers will meet the average with little or no change in their practices.
–The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald
MPCA investigating Carver County
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating how Carver County’s environmental staff allowed an illegal septic system to operate at the county-owned Waconia ballroom for 18 months.
The MPCA inquiry, which began recently, is directed at the county’s Office of Environmental Services, which last year told the County Board that the system was legal and had passed inspections.
The office accepted a compliance inspection report in 2008 even though it was prepared by the same man who installed the system about 30 years ago. Questions were raised almost immediately about the accuracy of the report, with critics claiming that the septic system was too close to the area groundwater to be legal.
–The Star Tribune