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.
Research Council urges focus on agricultural sustainability
Government policies and agricultural research are too focused on increasing crop production and should be directed toward softening the impact of farming on the land and water, researchers say.
Farms have increased production by 158 percent over the past 60 years, but that has come with a cost to water quality and water supplies, and agriculture also is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Our finding was that there is too much emphasis on productivity, mainly of industrial ingredients,” said one of the 15 members of the study panel, Cornelia Flora, a sociologist at Iowa State University who specializes in agricultural and rural issues.
The report said that most public agricultural research funding is targeted toward improving farm productivity and reducing costs. Just one-third goes toward other aspects of farming practices, such as the environmental impact. Federal and state research programs “should aggressively fund” studies of farming systems that making farming “robust and resilient over time,” the report said.
The researchers also said that federal farm subsidies encourage farmers to maximize yields and plant the same crops year after year and that more study is needed to determine what impact alternative policies could have on farming practices.
–The Des Moines Register
Sulfide mining review under way again
Four months after an environmental analysis of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota was slammed by a federal agency, a revamped study is finally moving ahead.
Anxious environmentalists and many concerned residents hope this one turns out to be a lot more comprehensive.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we are really counting on it being a thorough analysis,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “It’s what Minnesota’s waters deserve.”
At issue is whether a type of mining proposed by PolyMet Mining, which has led to widespread pollution elsewhere, can be done safely near one of Minnesota’s most vulnerable areas — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast system of federally protected and interconnected lakes and rivers.
Nearby, two other ambitious sulfide-mining proposals also are in the works, offering the prospect of more intensive activity near the wilderness border.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Arsenic in groundwater epidemic in Bangladesh
Hanufa Bibi stoops in a worn sari and mismatched flip-flops to work the hand pump on her backyard well. Spurts of clear water wash grains of rice from her hands, but she can never get them clean.
Thick black warts tattoo her palms and fingers, the result of drinking arsenic-laced well water for years. It’s a legacy that new research has linked to 1 in 5 deaths among those exposed in Bangladesh — an impoverished country where up to half of its 150 million people have guzzled tainted groundwater.
The World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” as countless new wells continue to be dug here daily without testing the water for toxins.
“The magnitude of the arsenic problem is 50 times worse than Chernobyl,” said Richard Wilson, president of the nonprofit Arsenic Foundation and a physics professor emeritus at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.
–The Associated Press
EPA proposes crackdown on nitrogen pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay, requiring Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states to do more to clean up the troubled estuary than previously thought necessary.
The pollution limits proposed by the EPA would force the six states and the District of Columbia to roughly double the pace at which they’ve been removing nitrogen, one of the two nutrients fouling the bay. Maryland, for instance, would have to curtail nitrogen by 15 percent over the next seven years — a regimen likely to require costly upgrades to sewage treatment plants, expensive retrofits of storm drains in urban and suburban areas, and major new curbs on runoff of fertilizer and chicken manure from Eastern Shore farms.
EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the draft pollution-reduction targets would not be easy for the states to achieve. But they represent federal scientists’ best estimates of what’s needed to restore fish-sustaining oxygen to the waters of North America’s largest estuary. Dead zones form every summer in the Chesapeake from algae blooms that are fed by sewage plants, farm and urban and suburban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun
FDA inches toward regulating drugs fed to livestock
Federal food regulators took a tentative step toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.
But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting.
In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.
The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.
–The New York Times
Turn in a polluter – on line
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently launched its new online Complaint Tracker system. Citizens with environmental complaints can now fill out an online form available via the MPCA web site and click to send it directly to a MPCA inspector.
The MPCA receives about 1,000 environmental complaints from citizens each year. Complaints range from seeing a neighbor illegally dumping garbage to spotting a puzzling oily sheen on a lake.
“The MPCA relies on citizens to notify us of potential environmental problems, whether it’s someone dumping a mystery substance into a river or someone running a business without appropriate environmental safeguards and permits,” said Katie Koelfgen, supervisor, MPCA Air Quality Compliance and Enforcement Unit. “Speed and efficiency are important when it comes to protecting the environment. Once the MPCA knows about the problem and investigates, we’re able to take action quickly before further environmental damage is done. ”
While citizens can still rely on the phone to report a complaint, the new online system eliminates the need for messages, phone tag or repeated phone calls for more information. MPCA inspectors find the Complaint Tracker system to be user-friendly and efficient, allowing them to follow up on complaints more quickly. The phone numbers for complaints are 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA news release
DNR sampling well water in Benton County
Water samples from about 100 wells in Benton County are being collected and analyzed for general and trace chemistry during the next two months by hydrogeologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The data is being collected for the Benton County Geologic Atlas, a cooperative effort involving staff from the Minnesota Geological Survey, DNR Waters Division and Benton County. Samples are also being tested to learn how long the water has been underground.
DNR Waters staff will be contacting Benton county residents to request permission for well sampling, which involves collecting a water sample and measuring the depth to water in each well. The selection of wells for sampling will be based on geology, location, well depth and well construction. Water sampled will come from wells drawing water from aquifers at varying depths. Owners of wells that are sampled will receive a report of the laboratory results for their well.
–DNR News Release
No federal permit required for U.P. mine
A member of Congress says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided that Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. doesn’t need a federal permit to build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, whose district includes the section of Marquette County where the mine would be located, announced the decision. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment with EPA’s regional office in Chicago.
The federal permit was the last regulatory hurdle for Kennecott Eagle, which already has state permits to build and operate the mine.
Opponents of the project contend the mine would pollute groundwater and rivers in the remote area near Lake Superior. Kennecott says it will protect the environment.
–The Associated Press
Penn State climate scientist cleared of misconduct
An American scientist accused of manipulating research findings on climate science was cleared of that charge by his university, the latest in a string of reports to find little substance in the allegations known as Climategate.
An investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University, weighing the question of whether the scientist, Michael E. Mann, had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities,” declared that he had not.
Dr. Mann said he was gratified by the findings, the second report from Penn State to clear him. An earlier report had exonerated him of related charges that he suppressed or falsified data, destroyed e-mail and misused confidential information.
–The New York Times