Gulf oil spill; drinking water standards

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.

Gulf oil spill shows limits of technology
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is pushing current oil cleanup technology to its limits, but also serving as a testing ground for futuristic decontamination methods. 

Some cutting-edge imaging techniques that let responders size up slicks better, as well as novel engineering solutions such as a deep-water oil containment dome could see use in the Gulf of Mexico in coming days and weeks, experts say. 

But other long-touted measures, such as oil-eating microbes, however, are not yet ready to fight large spills. 

As the Deepwater Horizon cleanup effort is demonstrating, many of the current methods of cleaning up oil spills are decidedly low-tech. 

At least 70 response vehicles have fanned out in the Gulf and are using conventional physical containment methods such as floating tubes called booms and skimmers that slurp up mixed oil and water from the sea surface.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Fishing halted near oil slick
The government ordered a halt to fishing in areas affected by the ever-spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, a ban that covers waters from Louisiana to Florida and hinders the livelihoods of untold numbers of fishermen. 

Citing public safety concerns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the affected waters, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Pensacola Bay in Florida. Scientists were taking samples of water and seafood to ensure food safety. 

“We want to make sure that we can maintain the public confidence in the safety of the food supply and make sure that members of the public aren’t at risk,” said Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’ll continue to look at this and evaluate this.” 

Trawlers fishing for swordfish and tuna, and charter-boat operators, many of whom work out of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, are likely to feel the impact more than Louisiana fishermen, said Harlon Pearce, the chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.
–The New York Times

 Minnesota Health Dept. seeks input on drinking water standards
The Minnesota Department of Health, which provides health-based guidance on chemicals detected in Minnesota’s drinking water, is undertaking  two efforts to improve standards regulating contamination:

 n  MDH is seeking to amend the Health Risk Limit (HRL) rule for contaminants found in groundwater (Minnesota Rules, Part 4717.7860) used for drinking purposes. The amendments will expand the HRL rule by adding guidance in the form of new HRL values for 14 additional groundwater contaminants.

The department  will host a public meeting on May 19, 2010, to solicit public comments on the draft amendments

n  MDH has established the Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) program,  funded by the Clean Water Fund. CEC is a proactive program to protect drinking water by identifying contaminants of emerging concern that have the potential to occur in Minnesota drinking water sources, investigating the potential for human exposure to these contaminants, and developing guidance values, as applicable.  

Contact the Health Department to learn more about the effort and find opportunities to participate in it.
–Minnesota Health Department news release

 Rains ease long California drought
April’s battery of storms pushed snow levels well above normal but not enough to definitively end California’s three-year drought

The amount of water locked in the Sierra snowpack, California’s largest source of water, is 143 percent of normal and double last year’s levels for the same period, according to the state’s final snow survey of the season conducted Friday near Lake Tahoe. 

“All around, the figures look really, really good,” said Don Strickland, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.
–The San Francisco Chronicle 

Catostrophic water main break affects Boston
Nearly 2 million residents of Greater Boston lost their supply of clean drinking water when a huge pipe abruptly burst, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and to impose a sweeping order for homeowners and businesses to boil the untreated water now flowing from their taps.

 Governor Deval Patrick said residents in Boston and 29 other communities east of Weston should boil water for at least a minute before drinking it to avoid the risk of getting sick. He also asked bottled water companies and the National Guard to help make clean water available to residents in the affected communities.
–The Boston Globe

Benson ethanol plant to pay air quality penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co.  will pay a penalty consisting of $70,000 in cash and implement one or more Supplemental Environmental Projects costing at least $50,000 to resolve alleged violations of the company’s air quality permit at its ethanol production facility in Benson, Minn.

The violations, occurring in 2008 and 2009, centered on the company’s operation of a biomass gasification unit that went online in the spring of 2008.  The unit represented an advanced technology for the ethanol industry, in which wood products are heated to produce gas to fuel the facility’s boilers.

 There were significant problems with burning wood contaminated with lead and arsenic, most likely from wood that had been painted or treated with preservatives.  The company did not knowingly burn contaminated wood, but the MPCA alleged in the agreement that CVEC did not take proper precautions to ensure the wood supply was uncontaminated.  The company also failed to meet emission limits during stack performance tests for the waste heat boiler and a filter receiver, did not conduct required performance testing on other parts of its processes, and did not properly calculate and record total emissions as required during rolling 12-month periods.
–MPCA News Release 

L.A. County violates Clean Water Act
The County of Los Angeles violated the federal Clean Water Act when it discharged polluted water onto the world-famous Surfrider Beach at Malibu, according to a decision issued by the federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The court also found the county liable for illegally discharging polluted water into a marine coastal preserve in northern Los Angeles County, one of three dozen designated Areas of Special Biological Significance along the California coast. 

This lawsuit is the first to enforce California’s prohibition on polluted discharges to designated Areas of Special Biological Significance.
–Environment News Service