Each week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of important regiona, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the works in their entirety where they originally were published.
Ocean ‘dead zones’ spreading
Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth’s oceans, particularly off the United States’ Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.
They warn that the oceans’ complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.
In some spots off Washington state and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.
Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
Minnesota summit set on ag and water quality
The Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America — in partnership with the Freshwater Society — has scheduled the 2010 Wetlands Summit, Agriculture and Water Summit 2010: Keeping Water on the Land for Conservation and Production.
The conference will be Saturday, March 27, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
The goal of the conference is to connect farmers, researchers, conservationists, students, and anyone interested in working together to protect water resources while ensuring productive farms.
The morning session will feature Bruce Wilson and Gary Sands from the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering discussing the history of agricultural drainage in Minnesota and current strategies for conserving water in the soil and reducing the flow of nitrogen to surface waters. A panel discussion will feature Warren Formo from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition; Tim Larson from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Tony Thompson, a corn, soybean and native plant farmer from Windom; and Martin Jaus, an organic milk producer.
The keynote speech will be given by Jon Foley, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment titled “The Other Inconvenient Truth: A Global Challenge for Agriculture and the Environment” addressing the challenges of feeding our growing world population while protecting the land and water resources necessary to sustain the planet.
Aging water mains fail across the U.S.
One recent morning, George S. Hawkins, a long-haired environmentalist who now leads one of the largest and most prominent water and sewer systems, trudged to a street corner here where water was gushing into the air.
A cold snap had ruptured a major pipe installed the same year the light bulb was invented. Homes near the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood were quickly going dry, and Mr. Hawkins, who had recently taken over the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority despite having no experience running a major utility, was responsible for fixing the problem.
As city employees searched for underground valves, a growing crowd started asking angry questions. Pipes were breaking across town, and fire hydrants weren’t working, they complained. Why couldn’t the city deliver water, one man yelled at Mr. Hawkins.
Such questions are becoming common across the nation as water and sewer systems break down.
— The New York Times
EPA and Florida at odds over water quality
A political battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state’s polluted waters.
A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting hard numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those waters exceeding the limits would be considered “impaired,” triggering forced reductions on polluters.
The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.
“We say that Florida’s economy and environment are linked,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that filed suit. “If we can’t stop the state from degrading our waters now, they’ll just get worse.”
State environmental officials say they agree numeric criteria are needed for nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients. But they claim EPA’s numbers are too stringent and would require pollution reductions in many rivers and lakes that are in good shape.
–The Tampa Tribune
Bill aims to halt invasive species by limiting boat ramps
How far should Minnesota go to prevent invasive species such as zebra mussels from getting into more lakes?
Should boaters get a $250 fine for accidentally moving bait bucket water from one lake to another? Should there be a moratorium on new public lake accesses? Should the penalty for transporting a lake weed be the same as poaching a deer?
As unwanted aquatic critters such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas infest more Minnesota waters each year, the public cry to stop the spread is getting louder.
To date, the Department of Natural Resources has relied on boat inspections, stiffer laws and public information to try to slow the spread of lake pests.
Now the problem hits upon a bigger societal question: Who gets to use Minnesota’s lakes?
“If your only solution is to ban access, you’re giving unfair access to people who own lakeshore access,” said Shawn Kellett, a member of the group Anglers for Habitat.
Kellett is referring to new legislative proposals ordering the Minnesota DNR to stop developing new public accesses at lakes where no access currently exists. The moratorium would exist for the next five years until the agency develops better ways to control aquatic species.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Water systems sue over Atrazine
A group of public water systems in Missouri and Kansas are part of a federal lawsuit filed in Illinois by 16 water systems against the leading maker of a popular farm herbicide.
The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million from Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, N.C., and its parent, Syngenta, AG, Basel, Switzerland, in damages and to pay for the costs to treat water laced with atrazine.
Cameron, Mo., northeast of Kansas City; and Concordia, Mo., east of Kansas City; Miami County Rural Water District No. 2, Spring Hill, Kan., just southwest of Kansas City; and the city of Carbondale, Kan., about 60 miles southwest of Kansas City, are among the group of cities and water districts in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio involved.
The group’s attorney is seeking to make the lawsuit a class-action suit on behalf of other cities and water systems.
Syngenta is a major manufacturer of the herbicide atrazine, short for 2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropyl amino-s-triazine.
–The KC Tribune
Climate change stressing birds
Changes in the global climate are imposing additional stress on hundreds of species of migratory birds in the United States that are already threatened by other environmental factors, according to a new Interior Department report.
The latest version of the department’s annual State of the Birds Report shows that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline.
For the first time, the report adds climate change to other factors threatening bird populations, including destruction of habitat, hunting, pesticides, invasive species and loss of wetlands.
–The New York Times
Judge blocks St. Croix bridge
For the second time, a U.S. district judge in Minneapolis has blocked plans for a St. Croix River bridge south of Stillwater.
Chief Judge Michael Davis ruled in favor of the Sierra Club in its lawsuit to prevent construction of the bridge.
“It’s not a win for us. It’s a win for the river,” said St. Croix Valley Sierra Club spokesman Jim Rickard.
In a 93-page decision, Davis found that the National Park Service’s approval of the bridge plans violated federal law.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
International scientists to review climate change research
A group of top scientists from around the world will review the research and management practices of the United Nations climate change panel so that it can try to avoid the kinds of errors that have brought its work into question in recent months, officials said.
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies, would name scientists to take a thorough look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The panel has come under sharp attack after revelations of several mistakes in its most recent report, published in 2007, including a poorly sourced and exaggerated account of how quickly the Himalayan glaciers are melting.
Scientists and officials say that the panel’s finding that the earth is warming — probably as a result of human activity — remains indisputable. But critics have used the errors to raise doubts about the credibility of the entire 3,000-page study.
–The New York Times
Huge ethanol producer to cut water use 22%
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, says it can do the world one better and embarked on an ambitious initiative called Ingreenuity that first seeks to reduce its water consumption by 22 percent.
The company wants to squeeze water use at its 26 processing plants by a billion gallons – and wants to reach that goal by 2014.
“We’ve had a 20 percent increase in ethanol yields since our inception, but we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied,” Poet President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin told employees at the company’s Sioux Falls headquarters. “This is how we’re going to define our sustainability as we go forward. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do – it’s the right thing for our planet, and it’s the right thing for future generations.”
If successful, Ingreenuity would reduce Poet’s water use per gallon of ethanol produced from the current average of 3 gallons to 2.33, or a 22 percent reduction. When it started producing ethanol in 1987, Poet used 17 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of ethanol.
–The Argus Leader
Anoka County aquifers could drop
There’s a fervor to Jamie Schurbon’s voice as he warns of a coming crisis few can see.
If Metropolitan Council population projections come true, increased water use in urban parts of the metro area will lead to significantly lowered aquifer levels, to the detriment of lakes, ponds and even some shallower private wells.
Schurbon, a water resource specialist with the Anoka Conservation District, hopes information being gathered now will give water a more prominent place at the table as development resumes in the county after being interrupted by the recession.
–The Star Tribune
Judge blasts North Dakota water pipeline
A federal judge has issued a harsh rebuke to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, ordering the agency to conduct more studies on the potential environmental impact of a project to divert water from the Missouri River to a large swath of North Dakota.
The Northwest Area Water Supply Project would carry water from Lake Sakakawea, a Missouri River reservoir in central North Dakota, to the city of Minot, N.D., where it would be distributed to 10 counties. Most of the planned 45-mile pipeline has already been finished.
In her opinion in Manitoba v. Salazar, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Canadian province, which claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that the agency failed to take the necessary “hard look” at the project’s environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
–The New York Times
Sierra Club’s Edgar Wabum dies at 103
Edgar Wayburn, a physician who joined the Sierra Club to take a burro trip and then went on to become a major figure in the conservation movement, leading campaigns that preserved more than 100 million wild acres, died at his home in San Francisco. He was 103.
In announcing his death, Sierra Club called Dr. Wayburn “the 20th-century John Muir,” referring to its founder, who preserved the Yosemite Valley.
When President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Wayburn the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, he said Dr. Wayburn had “saved more of our wilderness than any other person alive.”
Dr. Wayburn had central roles in protecting 104 million acres of Alaskan wilderness; establishing and enlarging Redwood National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore in California; and starting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco.
–The New York Times
Iron, fluoride threaten India’s aquifers
Ground water in more than a third of Indian districts is not fit for drinking. The government, in reply to a parliamentary question, admitted that iron levels in ground water are higher than those prescribed in 254 districts while fluoride levels have breached the safe level in 224 districts.
The alarming situation could bring trouble for the government, which has promised to provide drinking water to all habitations by 2012 under the millennium development goals.
While ground water is not the only source of drinking water that government utilises, it is one of the key supplies and the dependence on ground water has been increasing over years.
The government, in its reply, said salinity had risen beyond tolerance levels in 162 districts while arsenic levels were found higher than permissible limits in 34 districts.
–The Times of India