Earth Day turns 40 this year

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

Thursday, April 22, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the movement that raised American consciousness about the environment.

Last weekend, President Obama announced the launching of web site,, that will compile success stories of citizens’ efforts to protect the environment. 

To read a good Wall Street Journal column by William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency upon its creation in 1970, on the pollution challenges we still face, click here. To view a 1970 New York Times article about preparations for the first Earth Day in 1970, click here

And to see a partial list of Earth Day events in Minnesota – a watershed clean-up in Minneapolis, another clean-up in the Three Rivers Park District, and activities at the Minnesota and Como Park zoos and the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville – click here. 

Freshwater Society staff members will participate in Earth Day events from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday at the Hennepin Technical College Brooklyn Park campus and at Cedar Park School in Apple Valley on Thursday. 

Science panel evaluates GMO crops
Genetically engineered crops have provided “substantial” environmental and economic benefits to American farmers, but overuse of the technology is threatening to erode the gains, a national science advisory organization said.

 The report is described as the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of genetically modified crops on American farmers, who have rapidly adopted them since their introduction in 1996. The study was issued by the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences and provides advice to the nation under a Congressional charter.

The report found that the crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also had lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.

But David E. Ervin, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, warned that farmers were jeopardizing the benefits by planting too many so-called Roundup Ready crops. These crops are genetically engineered to be impervious to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds while leaving the crops unscathed.
–The New York Times

Minnesota firms face new storm water rules
New storm water regulations from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will require as many as 19,000 Minnesota businesses to monitor potential pollution on their property.

 The new rules will affect different industry sectors over time. They require businesses to obtain a new storm water permit designed to stop polluted rain or snow runoff from a business property. They also target leaking oil from trucks or hazardous materials stored outside that could wash into wetlands or streams.

The first round of permit applications began earlier this month.
–Minnesota Public Radio  

L.A. water use hits 31-year low
Los Angeles has grown by about a million people in the last three decades, but you wouldn’t know it from the way water has been trickling out of taps and sprinklers.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported Monday that water usage in the city reached a 31-year low for the month of February, dropping more than 20% compared with the same period in 2007.

Officials tied the decrease to water rationing that went into effect in 2007. The rationing was prompted by the ongoing regional drought.

The best conservers were residents of single-family homes, who used nearly 30% less water as compared with February 1997.
–The Los Angeles Times 

 ‘Climate-gate’ review finds no fraud
In the second of three investigations of the scandal known as “climate-gate,” a panel of academic experts said that several prominent climate scientists did not engage in deliberate malpractice but did not use the best statistical tools available to produce their findings.

 The University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit has been under intense scrutiny since November, when hackers posted more than 1,000 pirated emails and a raft of other documents that highlight the scientists’ hostility toward global warming skeptics. But the review — which follows a British parliamentary review that defended the institution’s research but faulted its tendency to withhold information — did nothing to bridge the divide between many climate researchers and their critics. 

After interviewing staff members and analyzing 11 peer-reviewed articles published between 1986 and 2008, the panel concluded: “We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.”
–The Washington Post

 Chesapeake Bay crabs rebound
And now for something completely different: good news about the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake’s blue crabs, in decline for a decade, are in the middle of an extraordinary comeback, officials in Maryland and Virginia said. The estuary’s crab population has more than doubled in two years, they said, reaching its highest level since 1997. 

The chief reason, officials said, is a set of limits placed on the crab harvest in 2008. These were aimed at protecting more female crabs, which can produce millions of baby crabs apiece — but not if they’re turned into she-crab soup first.
–The Washington Post

 Water-saving devices spur Kohler growth
Water-saving devices have come a long way since federal mandates first required toilets to flush a maximum of 1.6 gallons in 1994.

 The knock on the toilets was that they required multiple flushes.

 But designs have improved and “there’s no trade-off now,” said Shane Judd, product manger for water conservation at the Kohler Co. “They’re more efficient in terms of using less water and performing better than their 1.6-gallon counterparts.” 

Just installing a high-efficiency toilet, faucet and shower head can save an average family of four 39,000 gallons of water a year, compared with models considered the industry standard.
–The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 

Wal-Mart’s Scott pulls retailer toward sustainability
If a single executive at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. deserves the lion’s share of credit for the company’s recent drift into corporate sustainability, most agree it is Lee Scott, CEO of the largest retailer on the planet from 2000 to 2009.

Scott, now the chairman of Wal-Mart, has been praised by many for sparking a cultural overhaul at the big-box chain that resulted most recently in a voluntary commitment to slash 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions from its global supply chain by the end of 2015. Other notches on Scott’s résumé are the company’s pledge to attain 100 percent of its power from renewable sources of energy and a promise to create zero waste.

 Critics see the shift as a public relations campaign for a company historically associated with suburban sprawl, but optimists have applauded Scott and other high-ups at Wal-Mart for prodding the Bentonville, Ark.-based corporation toward a more eco-friendly business model.
–The New York Times 

Antarctic researchers protect fragile environment
There’s nothing like carrying a pee bottle to remind you of your personal impact on the environment.

Staffers with the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) mentioned pee bottles during an environmental awareness lecture for our seven-person media group when we got to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in January. 

We had already passed an online test and absorbed a packet of reading materials. Now, as we prepared to visit some of the most exotic places on Earth, lead environmental specialist Kevin Pettway told us that when we visited protected areas, we’d carry those pee bottles — and that we would be responsible for cleaning them when we got back to McMurdo. 

Antarctica is the world’s coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent. But from our first day in this polar desert, I realized how delicate the Antarctic environment is.
–The Washington Post 

VHS confirmed in herring from Apostle Islands
VHS fish disease has been officially confirmed in lake herring collected in the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior northeast of Bayfield. The disease is not a threat to human health.

 This most recent finding came from lake herring collected in mid-December 2009 by a commercial fisherman working cooperatively with the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility in Bayfield and U.S. Geological Survey biologists in Ann Arbor, Mich., who submitted the fish for testing. The Michigan DNR notified Wisconsin that the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, had officially confirmed the presence of active VHS virus in the fish samples using the standard cell culture method. 

This is the first time active VHS virus has been confirmed in lake herring and in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior using the standard testing method. It follows, and reconfirms, a January 2010 announcement from Cornell University scientists that they had detected viral fragments in fish from Lake Superior using experimental methods. 

VHS, which stands for viral hemorrhagic septicemia, is not a human health risk but can infect dozens of native fish species and can cause them to bleed to death.
–The Superior Telegram 

DNR forbids use of smelt as bait
As the smelt run begins in the Duluth area, people who harvest the silvery forage fish are being told they can be used only for eating, not as bait.

 The message is being spread in an effort to limit the movement of VHS, a virus that has caused fish kills elsewhere on the Great Lakes. The disease is not harmful to humans. 

“We’re saying go ahead and harvest, but do it for consumption only,” said Mike Scott, a DNR conservation officer specializing in invasive species.
–The Duluth News Tribune 

 T. Boone Pickens finds few water buyers
The Panhandle’s best-stocked water marketer has led many a buyer to the well but can’t find anyone to drink.

 T. Boone Pickens said he had picked up little interest in his plans to sell groundwater from beneath 200,000 acres of rolling ranchland to Dallas, San Antonio, or really any thirsty customer down state wanting to buy.

 “They’re not lined up in the hall waiting to talk to me,” Pickens said. 

The 81-year-old billionaire called the billions of groundwater gallons to which his Mesa Water company holds rights “stranded water;” trapped under ranchland not suited for farming and far from big Texas metropolises.
–The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal