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.
Wisconsin DNR adopts phosphorus rules
The Natural Resources Board approved sweeping and costly new regulations to limit phosphorus in state waterways that could top $1 billion.
The goal is cleaner water, fewer algae blooms and a better habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Phosphorus pollution from runoff is one of the contributing factors to the foul-smelling algae on Lake Michigan’s beaches.
The measure was championed by the DNR and environmentalists, but the state hasn’t identified a way to finance a cost-sharing program, and business groups said the burden will fall unfairly on them.
The regulations take a two-pronged approach by setting water quality standards for phosphorus and by putting new limits on municipal wastewater treatment plants and factories that have their own treatment systems.
In turn, the water quality standards drive a complex series of regulations aimed at controlling phosphorus and other nutrients washed from farm fields, construction sites and urban streets.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Minnesota may seek pollution damages from 3M
3M Company may be liable for damage to natural resources because of chemicals that contaminated Mississippi River fish and tainted groundwater beneath much of the east metro area. State officials have met with 3M several times during the past few weeks, and said they hope to resolve the problems through negotiations rather than litigation.
3M phased out the compounds in 2002 after making them for nearly half a century at its Cottage Grove plant. They were used in numerous products including Scotchgard, non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. The company dumped wastes in area landfills and at the plant decades ago, before those practices were illegal. The chemicals spread to contaminate nearby ground and river water.
“For the past three years we’ve been focused on cleanup, on getting that moving forward,” said Kathy Sather, director of remediation for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “The time is right now for us to look at the natural resource damage that’s always part of the remediation that we do.”
Sather would not speculate on how much the damages might be.
–The Star Tribune
Asian carp caught close to Lake Michigan
A commercial fisherman patrolling the calm waters of Lake Calumet netted a 19-pound Asian carp, the first physical discovery of the feared invasive species in the Chicago waterway system north of the electric barriers.
Within minutes of the official announcement, lawmakers from Michigan and environmental advocacy groups were once more chastising Illinois’ response to the Asian carp crisis and threatening a new round of legal action aimed at permanently closing Chicago-area shipping locks.
“This was so tragically predictable,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who is among the architects of the Carp Act, a bill in Congress that would close the shipping locks. “For years, myself and so many others have raised concerns over this issue and were criticized for it or told we were overreacting. Today, our worst fears have been confirmed.”
–The Chicago Tribune
Stunning levels of toxins found in whales
Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood.
A report noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.
“These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean,” said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.
–The Associated Press
Minerals exploration near BWCA raises concerns
A new partnership between an Ely, Minn., company and a mining giant in Chile has spurred progress on copper and nickel exploration in northern Minnesota.
But because some of the new exploration is in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, it’s raising concerns among residents and other observers.
Ely-based Duluth Metals, with financial backing from the Chilean company Antofogasta, has drilled some 170 test holes in a 1,500-acre tract near the South Kawishiwi River and thinks the results are promising.
Duluth Metals is among six companies exploring for minerals near the boundary waters. The companies are drilling deep holes, probing huge deposits of valuable copper, nickel, gold, platinum, and palladium.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Some question risk of BP drilling in Alaska
The future of BP’s offshore oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico has been thrown into doubt by the recent drilling disaster and court wrangling over a moratorium.
But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.
All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.
But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.
–The New York Times
EPA seeks tax renewal for Superfund clean-ups
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Congress in support of reinstating the lapsed Superfund “polluter pays” taxes. Superfund is the federal government’s program that investigates and cleans up the nation’s most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites.
If reinstated, the Superfund provision would provide a stable, dedicated source of revenue for the program and increase the pace of Superfund cleanup. It would also ensure that parties who benefit from the manufacture or sale of substances that commonly cause environmental problems at hazardous waste sites, and not taxpayers, help bear the cost of cleanup when responsible parties cannot be identified.
The Superfund taxes expired on Dec. 31, 1995. Since the expiration of the taxes, Superfund program funding has been largely financed from General Revenue transfers to the Superfund Trust Fund, thus burdening the taxpayer with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites. The administration is proposing to reinstate the taxes as they were last in effect on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances that use hazardous chemicals as a feedstock, and on corporate modified alternative minimum taxable income.
More information on the Superfund program: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/
–EPA News Release
Early spring brings bumper crop of watermilfoil
The weeds on Lake Calhoun have grown so thick this year that it almost looks as if the Minneapolis lake has islands.
Much of it is Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive species that has taken over in most lakes in the Twin Cities and elsewhere throughout the state. The milfoil has become a common sight, but this year’s warm spring means it has hit its peak earlier than usual.
The weeds tickle swimmers’ legs and feet and make it harder for boats — especially sailboats — to navigate the lake without getting stuck.
“It’s just gotten progressively worse, and this is the worst year we’ve had,” said Mike Elson, who leads the Calhoun Yacht Club and has been sailing on Lake Calhoun since 1979.
–Minnesota Public Radio
California suit challenges groundwater pumping
Commercial fisherman have filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of not leaving enough water in a Northern California river for coho salmon.
The lawsuit says the State Water Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County allowed groundwater well permits that have depleted the Scott River.
The plaintiffs say the endangered coho salmon are now on the verge of extinction in the river.
A spokesman at the State Resources Water Control Board, William L. Rukeyser, says the lawsuit appears to raise many theories about pumping that are not established in California law.
–The Associated Press
A solar economy – We’re already living in one
We have a solar-based economy, whether or not we realize it. Ninety-four percent of the world’s energy comes from the sun, even energy that doesn’t at first glance seem solar. Coal, oil and natural gas are mostly the products of ancient plants that grew with the sun’s help. The sun drives hydroelectric power by evaporating low-lying water, then dumping it at higher altitudes. Windmills turn because the sun warms the planet’s air unevenly.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of sun to go around. Our local star is continuously transmitting 180 quadrillion watts of energy to the Earth, 14,000 times our requirements for generating power. So the question isn’t where to get our energy, but how to capture it.
Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, are our most identifiable effort to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. They depend on a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect, discovered in 1839 by a French teenager. Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, then 19, placed two metal plates in a salt solution and generated an electric current by simply placing his rig in the sun.
–The Washington Post
Ban on genetically modified alfalfa overturned
In its first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ban on the planting of alfalfa seeds engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
The decision was a victory for Monsanto and others in the agricultural biotechnology industry, with potential implications for other cases, like one involving genetically engineered sugar beets.
But in practice the decision is not likely to measurably speed up the resumption of planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa.
–The New York Times
Improvement predicted in Chesapeake ‘dead zone’
The fish-smothering “dead zone” now forming in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay is likely to be one of the smallest in the past 25 summers, scientists predicted , a brighter outlook they credited to favorable weather as well as to long-running efforts to clean up the estuary.
Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science forecast that this summer will produce the fifth-smallest stretch of water in the bay’s depths deprived of the oxygen that fish, crabs and oysters need to breathe.
Whether that means the bay is on the road to recovery depends on which scientist you ask.
–The Baltimore Sun
Taconite mill to pay $19,000 in air-quality case
ArcelorMittal Mine Inc. recently agreed to pay a $19,000 civil penalty for alleged air quality violations and will be required to complete corrective actions to bring the facility back into compliance within 45 days, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced.
The company owns and operates a taconite production facility in Virginia, Minn. The facility processes taconite ore and produces pellets for iron-making.
ArcelorMittal’s air quality permit, issued in 2007, regulates equipment emissions and sets allowable operating ranges for air pollution control devices at several stages of the production process. Company monitoring reports submitted between the second half of 2006 and the second half of 2009 documented a number of deviations from air pollution control equipment permit requirements and allowable operating parameters.
–MPCA News Release
Grants, loans available for water protection
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking grant proposals from local government units and other entities interested in leading a nonpoint-source, pollution-control project. Priority for funding will be given to projects that protect waters currently meeting state water quality standards.
The due date for proposals is 4:30 p.m., Aug. 13.
The MPCA anticipates there will be $2 million available for grants and $2 million for loans this year. Eligible applicants include watershed districts, Indian tribes, cities and counties, joint powers organizations and watershed management organizations. There is a $500,000 limit on each grant funding request and no limit for a loan request. Proposals must be sent electronically to CWP.Grant.PCA@ state.mn.us.
This year, the MPCA will offer funds for two types of projects:
- Resource investigation to monitor, assess and develop a diagnostic study for water bodies, along with a plan to implement activities that address the needs of the water bodies.
- Implementation of activities already identified by a comprehensive assessment and planning process in the watershed or area around the water body of concern.
For information, go www.pca.state.mn.us/water/cwp-319.html.
–MPCA News Release
Progress seen on curly-leaf pondweed
Two years after Eden Prairie’s Anderson Lakes were drained in an experiment with natural weed control, rain is finally filling them up again and early results are encouraging:
The weeds, after back-to-back cold treatments, seem to be in retreat.
Northwest and Southwest Anderson Lakes were drained in the fall of 2008 to expose the lake beds to a winter freeze in an attempt to kill unwanted curly-leaf pondweed. The freeze targeted burrlike buds embedded in the lake bed that allow the weed to reproduce.
–The Star Tribune