Climate change and ducks; copper-nickel mining

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts 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 articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Global warming bodes ill for ducks
The loss of wetlands in the prairie pothole region of central North America due to a warmer and drier climate will negatively affect millions of waterfowl that depend on the region for food, shelter and raising young, according to research published in the journal BioScience.

The new research shows that the region appears to be much more sensitive to climate warming and drying than previously thought. 

“The impact to the millions of wetlands that attract countless ducks to these breeding grounds in spring makes it difficult to imagine how to maintain today’s level of waterfowl populations in altered climate conditions,” said Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and one of the report authors. “Parents may not have time to raise their young to where they can fly because of wetlands drying up too quickly in the warming climate of the future,” he added. 

A new wetland model developed by the authors to understand the impacts of climate change on wetlands in the prairie pothole region projected major reductions in water volume, shortening of the time water remains in wetlands and changes to wetland vegetation dynamics in this 800,000-square kilometer region in the United States (North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Iowa) and Canada.
–USGS News Release 

Climatologist mostly cleared of misconduct
An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said. 

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units. 

While the Pennsylvania State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.
–The New York Times 

Copper-nickel mine draws flood of comments
More than 3,500 comments in 45 days. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has received a mini tidal wave of letters, e-mails and oral comments about a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. It’s not a surprise, since everything about the $600 million PolyMet project is big.

“This is certainly an extraordinary level of comments,” said Stuart Arkley, the project’s environmental study manager. “Normally a couple hundred might be considered a lot.” 

The comment period ended for the lengthy environmental impact study for the PolyMet mining and ore processing project near Hoyt Lakes. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal partner with the DNR in preparing the study, which began nearly four years ago.
–The Star Tribune 

Court upholds New York’s ballast rule
A New York State appeals court has dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s new ballast water requirements, intended to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. In a ruling, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the authority of states to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards. 

Ballast water is taken on by cargo ships to compensate for changes in the ship’s weight as cargo is loaded or unloaded, and as fuel and supplies are consumed. 

When a ship takes on ballast water, organisms native to that water are also taken on board. When that ballast water is discharged into another body of water, those organisms are released, often harming the native species of the new ecosystem.
–Environmental News Service

Georgia governor calls for water conservation
Georgians will be called to a new “culture of conservation” under water legislation outlined by Gov. Sonny Perdue, struggling in the twilight of his term to find a solution to the long-running water dispute with neighboring Florida and Alabama.

At a news conference, Perdue called the legislation “a diverse and comprehensive package,” and then went on to warn that it will require a brand new mindset for many Georgians:

“Where it makes sense, we’re going to ask Georgians to make commitments that we have never asked of them before, and at other points, we will launch incentive-based efforts to encourage creativity and innovation involving our very diverse bill will require efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction statewide.
–The Southern Political Report

U.S. knew of mothballed ships’ toxic threat
The U.S. Maritime Administration knew in 1997 that paint falling off its obsolete ships anchored in Suisun Bay could cause toxic pollution, yet took no action for more than a decade while denying a problem existed, according to federal documents. 

Cleanup was called “essential” in a 1997 memo that stated, “Environmental precautions must be recognized to the fullest extent.” 

“Exfoliating paint on (Maritime Administration) ships is an issue that must be addressed,” the August 1997 internal memo states. “The discharge of lead and tributyltin, commonly found in marine paints, are prohibited by federal, state and local environmental regulations … there may be some impacts on water and biotic resources.” 

But the Maritime Administration undertook no cleanup as the so-called Mothball Fleet anchored off Benicia continued to deteriorate for another decade. A 2007 study — launched after a series of articles in the Contra Costa Times that questioned the fleet’s condition — found that 21 tons of paint flakes laden with lead and other toxic metals had fallen into local waters and that 66 more tons remained on the vessels.
–The Contra Costa Times