Manure: The huge new pollution challenge

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 articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Manure: The new pollution challenge
Nearly 40 years after the first Earth Day, this is irony: The United States has reduced the manmade pollutants that left its waterways dead, discolored and occasionally flammable.

But now, it has managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world.

Animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become an unlikely modern pollution problem, scientists and environmentalists say. The country simply has more dung than it can handle: Crowded together at a new breed of megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields.
–The Washington Post

Court rulings hamstring EPA enforcement
Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.
–The New York Times

 Dairy lobby gains influence in Wisconsin
As the number of factory farms has grown in Wisconsin, so has the power of the Dairy Business Association, a lobbying group that has gained unprecedented influence over the permitting and regulation of the giant farms — in some cases, crafting the law itself. 

Correspondence and memos obtained through the state’s open records law show the association is heavily involved not only in shaping policy but also has intervened in the state’s handling of individual permit applications. 

The DBA is the most powerful advocate on behalf of the state’s biggest dairies, those with 700 or more cows, requiring them to get pollution permits from the state Department of Natural Resources. Each of the farms produces millions of gallons of liquid manure that is stored in large lagoons and spread on fields. In some cases, waste has run into nearby streams or polluted nearby wells. 

Despite the volume of waste, an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal found inspections by the DNR have been spotty, with some farms being checked only once during the five-year life of their permit.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

EPA criticizes Polymet mine proposal
The Environmental Protection Agency says the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine proposed for northeastern Minnesota should not go ahead as currently planned. 

The EPA listed more than two-dozen so-called inadequacies in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ draft environmental impact statement, or EIS. 

The DNR’s Steve Colvin says the criticisms come in part because of a difference in approach by the two levels of government. 

“In the federal process, you’re expecting the information in the EIS to be more detailed, very close to what you need to make a permit decision, whereas in the state process you’re not at that permitting level of detail,” Colvin said. 

The EPA warned of possible impacts to water quality and wetlands, increased emissions of mercury into the Lake Superior watershed, and what it called “inadequate financial assurance for performance.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Climate change panel seeks review of procedures
Because of recent criticism of its work, the Nobel Prize-winning international panel studying global warming is seeking independent outside review for how it makes major reports, the panel said. 

Critics have found a few unsettling errors — including incorrect projections of retreats in Himalayan glaciers — in the thousands of pages of the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Scientists say the problems, ranging from typos in key dates to sloppy sourcing, are minor and have nothing to do with the major conclusions about man-made global warming and how it will harm people and ecosystems. But researchers acknowledge that they have been slow to respond to criticisms in the past three months. And those criticisms seem to have resonated in poll results and news media coverage that have put climate scientists on the defensive. 

“The IPCC clearly has suffered a loss in public confidence,” Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, a chairman of one of the IPCC’s four main research groups, told the Associated Press on Saturday. “And one of the things that I think the world deserves is a clear understanding of what aspects the IPCC does well and what aspects of the IPCC can be improved.”
The Washington Post

Minnesota budget fix taps boating fees
There’s no doubt Minnesota’s budget is in crisis. But now the state’s 860,000 boaters might help close that $1.2 billion deficit.

 Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s supplemental budget calls for $1.2 million to be taken from the state’s Water Recreation Account — funds generated by boat registration and other boater fees — and put in the general fund.

 The diversion apparently is unprecedented.
–The Star Tribune

 Obama Great Lakes plan lauded, questioned
The Obama Administration’s Great Lakes restoration plan is getting favorable marks in the upper midwest, but many details, including most of the funding, remain to be worked out.

 The five year action plan spells out specific targets and goals the Obama Administration wants to reach while spending more than $2 billion over five years on its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 The plan takes on challenges including invasive species, long-term pollution and wildlife restoration.

 Tom Landwehr with the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota says the plan lays out a coordinated approach to restoring a huge swath of U.S. territory.

“There are so many…entities that have some role in management regulation of the Great Lakes, that it’s absolutely imperitive that there be some kind of coordinating plans to go forward,” Landwehr said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 USGS scientists take aim at Asian carp
Scientists are stepping up the quest for new poisons and other tools that could prevent Asian carp from gaining a foothold in the Great Lakes, Obama administration officials told a congressional panel. 

U.S. Geological Survey experts are looking at short- and long-term methods of reining in the invasive fish amid rising fears they may have eluded electrical barriers on Chicago waterways and are poised to colonize Lake Michigan, said Leon Carl, the agency’s Midwest executive. 

“The pressure is on our scientists,” Carl said, adding that money provided under the Obama administration’s $78.5 million carp control plan would help researchers make progress. “I think we’re going to do some really exciting research.” 

Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the studies and other proposals in the government plan have good prospects to succeed — despite complaints from many in the region that the strategy is inadequate because it doesn’t close shipping locks that could open a carp pathway to the lake.

 Groundwater use threatens Anoka County lakes
Anoka County lake levels would drastically drop and many wetlands and streams would dry up if a Metropolitan Council study’s predictions come to fruition.

Rainfall is the short-term culprit in lakes, streams and wetlands drying up, but the long-term threat is the over-pumping of groundwater, said Jamie Schurbon, a water resource specialist for the Anoka Conservation District.

A Metropolitan Council study predicts that groundwater pumping will lead to greater drops in surface water depths in Anoka County than in other areas of the Twin Cities. Depths in many areas of the county could drop one to five feet by 2030 and three to 10 feet by 2050.

“We’re building to that point where if everything is as it is indicated now, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions at a local level about growth and development,” Schurbon said.
–The Coon Rapids Herald

Funding for trails becomes an issue
Minnesota lawmakers clearly like state hiking and biking trails. After all, they’ve authorized almost 2,600 miles of them.

 But with only half of those trails developed so far, it’s just as clear they haven’t been as eager to pay for them. 

That inaction has produced a $440 million funding gap — the difference between the price tags of what they’ve authorized and the money they’ve directed to them. Under a recent scenario that anticipates $20 million in trails-related bonding each two-year budget cycle, it will take until 2044 just to develop the ones already in the pipeline. 

“There’s a significant backlog,” conceded Forrest Boe, deputy director of the Parks and Trails Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  “That says a couple of things. Some of them will have to wait a while. The Legislature is taking a look at that, and they need to decide whether to make greater investments to speed up the process or to continue as they have.”
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Counties, Chamber oppose MPCA landfill rules
Lobbyists at the Capitol are kicking back against new permitting and financial assurance rules for landfills that were recently released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA). And some state legislators are likewise questioning whether the rules reflect the original legislative intent of the law that spawned the new rules. 

Business and municipal interests such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Minnesota Counties are concerned that new draft rules released by PCA on Nov. 30 could ultimately close landfills in the state. 

Mike Robertson, a lobbyist for the Chamber, testified in front of the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee that a coalition of 40 counties and private landfill operators are worried that new permitting rules and financial assurance requirements (designed to ensure that operators could pay for any environmental clean-up needed at a later date) for existing and new landfills would put many such operations out of business.
–Politics in Minnesota 

Wisconsin considers permit process changes
Two proposed general permits covering livestock operations of different sizes will be the topic of public hearings statewide in March and April, and a public comment period through April 23. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the state is proposing to issue standardized water protection permits known as ‘general permits’ instead of writing the permits individually as a way to free up time for compliance and inspections of large-scale livestock operations.

“Wisconsin has among the most rigorous permitting standards in the nation right now, and our proposed general permits have the same requirements,” says Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources runoff management section. “But we are the last state to use individual permits for large-scale livestock operations.”

Stevenson says since the requirements for many of these large operations are the same, there is limited need for DNR staff to draft each permit individually. Switching to standardized general permits would allow DNR staff to spend more time in the field inspecting those livestock operations to make sure they are following requirements for manure storage, handling, spreading, and other activities.
–Wisconsin Ag Connection

North Dakota pesticide use up 30 percent in 4 years
Acres treated with pesticides across the state set a new record in 2008 by jumping more than 10 million acres, according to a recently released study. 

Conducted by North Dakota State University in collaboration with the state’s agricultural statistics office, “Pesticide Use and Pest Management Practices in North Dakota 2008” revealed that pesticide-treated acres jumped nearly 30 percent, from 22.5 million acres in 2004 to 32.6 million acres in 2008, the highest recorded figure since the study began in 1978. 

Between 1978 and 2004, pesticide-treated acres fluctuated between 16 million and 22.5 million acres. 

“With this study we try to demonstrate a reduction of pesticide use because we want to use more biological management practices, so when you see a big increase like this you really wonder,” said Marcia McMullen, a plant pathologist at NDSU who helped with the study.
–The Minot Daily News

 Guelph, Ont., to study grey water use
The city has received more than $70,000 in funding to study the feasibility of recycling grey water for residential toilet flushing.

 The funding comes from the Green Municipal Fund, administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

 “Canada-wide we’re the only community with this type of grey water recycling program, so it’s really quite exciting,” Wayne Galliher, the city’s water conservation project manager, said. 

A pilot project to test whether reusing grey water is feasible began about a year ago. Fourteen homes have reuse systems installed, and the city would like another 16 homeowners to sign on.