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.
Minnesota R. clean-up still a work in progress
The Minnesota River is flowing high and fast — and as dark as chocolate milk — boosted by rains, runoff and soil erosion.
It’s been nearly 18 years since former Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the river — long the most polluted in the state — and vowed to make it clean enough to fish and swim in within 10 years.
That didn’t happen — call it a work in progress.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent for everything from new sewage treatment plants to wetland and grassland restorations.
Though it’s hard to tell by looking at it, the river likely is a bit cleaner than it was when Carlson challenged the state to clean up what had become — and some would say still is — a giant drainage ditch.
–The Star Tribune
Zebra mussels found in Lake Minnetonka
Zebra mussels have invaded Lake Minnetonka, a breach of the state’s defenses against invasive species that threatens to dramatically change the character of Minnesota’s 10th-largest lake within just a few years.
Department of Natural Resources biologists confirmed that a small number of mussels are attached to rocks along the shore, and their size suggests that a reproducing population has been in the lake for at least a year.
In places where they’ve become established, the fingernail-sized mussels proliferate by the millions, consume food needed by fish, clog water intake pipes, ruin fish spawning beds and litter beaches and shallow areas with razor-sharp shells.
–The Star Tribune
Climate change ‘unmistakable,’ agency says
“Global warming is undeniable,” and it’s happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.
An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual “State of the Climate” reports. Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.
The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.
For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an “unmistakable upward trend,” the study says.
And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency “jumps off the page at you,” report co-author Derek Arndt said.
–National Geographic News
Minnesota’s air is much cleaner
That lungful of clean air was brought to you by the reformed polluters of Minnesota.
They have slashed pollution by more than 50 percent since 1970. Smokestack industries have cut emissions by almost two-thirds. The biggest polluters — drivers — have cut pollution by 77 percent.
Put another way, air pollution per capita in America has dropped almost two-thirds.
“This is like the bald eagle coming back,” said Bob Moffitt, spokesman for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. “I think we should be celebrating.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
UN declares access to safe water a human right
Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, the General Assembly declared, voicing deep concern that almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water.
The 192-member Assembly also called on United Nations Member States and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.
The Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favor and zero votes against, while 41 countries, including the United States, abstained from voting.
The text of the resolution expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.
–United Nations News Release
A.G. wants action on Asian carp in Mississippi River
One week after filing suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson suggested a similar approach to hold off their advance into the Upper Mississippi River.
Swanson, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and other conservationists held a news conference along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis to highlight the problems of invasive Asian carp moving into Minnesota waters.
“They are a major threat to our life in Minnesota,” said Klobuchar, noting how the voracious creatures have taken over other ecosystems and could devastate the state’s $2.7 billion fishing industry.
Asian carp were brought to the United States four decades ago to control algae and other problems in southern fish farms. They escaped into the wild and have expanded their reach, moving up the Missouri River to South Dakota and the Mississippi to the southern Minnesota border area.
Last month, a 19-pound Asian carp was caught in a Chicago-area waterway beyond an electrical barrier in the Illinois River designed to stop the fish from entering Lake Michigan and ultimately Lake Superior. Swanson and attorneys general from four other states filed suit against the Corps and the Illinois agency overseeing the waterway, seeking immediate action to keep the carp out of the lakes and long-term measures to separate the Illinois River from Lake Michigan.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Researchers find massive undersea river
Researchers working in the Black Sea have found currents of water 350 times greater than the River Thames flowing along the sea bed, carving out channels much like a river on the land.
The undersea river, which is up to 115ft deep in places, even has rapids and waterfalls much like its terrestrial equivalents.
If found on land, scientists estimate it would be the world’s sixth largest river in terms of the amount of water flowing through it.
The discovery could help explain how life manages to survive in the deep ocean far out to sea away from the nutrient rich waters that are found close to land, as the rivers carry sediment and nutrients with them.
FDA considers genetically modified salmon
It may not be the 500-pound “Frankenfish” some researchers were talking about 10 years ago, but a Massachusetts company says it is on the verge of receiving federal approval to market a quick-growing Atlantic salmon that’s been genetically modified with help from a Pacific Chinook salmon.
Although genetically engineered crops such as corn and soybeans have been part of the American diet for several years, if the Food and Drug Administration approves the salmon, it will be the first transgenic animal headed for the dinner table.
–The Washington Post
Research: Ag advances slow greenhouse gases
Advances in conventional agriculture have dramatically slowed the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, in part by allowing farmers to grow more food to meet world demand without plowing up vast tracts of land, a study by three Stanford University researchers has found.
The study, which has been embraced by many agricultural groups but criticized by some environmentalists, found that improvements in technology, plant varieties and other advances enabled farmers to grow more without a big increase in greenhouse gas releases. Much of the credit goes to eliminating the need to plow more land to plant additional crops.
The study’s authors said they aren’t claiming modern, high-production agriculture is without problems, including the potential for soil degradation through intense cultivation and fertilizer runoff that can contaminate fresh water.
“In this one way that we’ve looked at, which is the climate impact, its pretty obviously been a good thing,” said Steven Davis, a geologist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford who worked on the study. “There’s very clearly other negative impacts of modern agriculture.”
–The Associated Press
The sooty downside of Chinese economic boom
China, the world’s most prodigious emitter of greenhouse gas, continues to suffer the downsides of unbridled economic growth despite a raft of new environmental initiatives.
The quality of air in Chinese cities is increasingly tainted by coal-burning power plants, grit from construction sites and exhaust from millions of new cars squeezing onto crowded roads, according to a government study issued this week. Other newly released figures show a jump in industrial accidents and an epidemic of pollution in waterways.
The report’s most unexpected findings pointed to an increase in inhalable particulates in cities like Beijing, where officials have struggled to improve air quality by shutting down noxious factories and tightening auto emission standards. Despite such efforts, including an ambitious program aimed at reducing the use of coal for home heating, the average concentration of particulates in the capital’s air violated the World Health Organization’s standards more than 80 percent of the time during the last quarter of 2008.
–The New York Times
Prince Charles urges sustainable lifestyle
Prince Charles urged Britain to tackle “possibly the greatest challenge humanity has faced” by creating a more sustainable future.
The heir to the throne, 61, wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper that too often people saw “becoming more sustainable” as a threat to their quality of life or a risk to the economy.
But he insisted that small, simple measures could be taken that would make the journey fun and more positive, as he launched a new initiative called Start.
Charles said he was recycling bath water to use on the garden and turning old curtain material into “fashionable bags.”
BPA found on cash register receipts
A warning before you take your receipt at the grocery store, fast food restaurants or pharmacy.
A new study by the Environmental Working Group found they could put your health at risk.
Researchers say their findings show, BPA was found on 40 percent of receipts. The chemical levels were higher than those in canned foods, baby bottles and infant formula.
The study revealed, BPA was detected on at least one of several receipts from a number of popular stores, restaurants and the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria, according to the private Washington-based research group.
BPA, a plastic hardener linked to breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, reacts with dye to form black print on receipts handled by millions of people daily.
–The Los Angeles Times
Kayaking the urban Los Angeles River
Environmental activist George Wolfe has always believed the best way to know a river is to kayak it. So when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently designated the entire Los Angeles River a “traditional navigable waterway,” he organized an expedition.
Toting a waterproof first-aid kit and a sack of binoculars, Wolfe led seven people clad in T-shirts, shorts, sun hats and life vests to a lush, eight-mile stretch of river bottom near Griffith Park known as the Glendale Narrows.
Awaiting them downstream were quiet pools draining into noisy chutes, strewn with shoes, clothing, shopping carts, tires and plastic bottles, and shaded by cottonwood trees, cane forests and cattails. Plastic grocery bags snared in tree limbs rustled in the breeze. The river was running warm, greenish and, as one of the kayakers put it, “smelly as old socks.”
–The Los Angeles Times
White Bear homeowners fund study of lake level
Engineers will take a fresh look at the causes and evaluate possible solutions to record low water levels that have strangled White Bear Lake the past two summers.
The White Bear Lake Conservation District accepted a $5,000 White Bear Lake Homeowners Association grant to commission phase one of a Water Level Augmentation Study. The first phase will evaluate and interpret a comprehensive 1998 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources study on historic White Bear Lake water levels and associated groundwater pumping.
“It was not our intention to reinvent the wheel and study what the state has already studied,” said Homeowners Association President Mike Crary. “This will simply get more facts and get a better understanding of what the DNR study was saying.”
Crary said low water levels are driving lake home values down, which leads to decreased city tax revenue. There are approximately 500 homes on White Bear Lake and about 100 currently have no access to water, he said.
–The White Bear Press
L.A. weakens water conservation law
In June 2009, an ordinance limiting lawn and garden watering with sprinklers to two days a week took effect in Los Angeles. Citywide water consumption dropped by more than 20%.
Yet, 13 months later, the ordinance that pushed Los Angeles to the fore of the Western water conservation movement is about to be gutted, having become collateral damage in a roiling brawl over rate hikes and green energy between the City Council and the mayor’s office.
On July 6, the City Council sent the utility a neutered version of the lawn ordinance that would allow watering an extra day a week. Browbeaten Department of Water and Power commissioners quietly rubber-stamped it. What is being passed off as a tweak looks more like a death knell for one of the best collective environmental efforts made by the citizens of Los Angeles.
–The Los Angeles Times
U of M helps form atrazine remediation venture
An atrazine remediation technology based on the research of University of Minnesota biochemist Lawrence Wackett and microbiologist Michael Sadowsky will serve as the basis for a start-up company launched by two recent College of Science and Engineering graduates, Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson.
NewWater, the start-up created by Mullenbach and Johansson, will offer a biocatalyst-based drinking water filtration technology that can reduce atrazine concentrations in water to acceptable levels.
Atrazine is a selective herbicide that is widely used by farmers in the United States to control broadleaf weeds and grasses. More than half of U.S. corn acreage, for example, is treated with atrazine. First registered for use in 1959, the Environmental Protection Agency has long required water systems to test and treat for atrazine. In recent years the safety of atrazine has been the subject of much debate among scientists, and the EPA recently initiated a new scientific evaluation to determine whether current regulations need to be strengthened.
The university granted NewWater the use of three university patents, and the university holds an equity stake in the company. In NewWater’s technology, enzymes developed by Wackett and Sadowsky will serve as a catalyst to initiate bacterial metabolism of atrazine, decomposing it into harmless by-products. The process does not produce a water waste stream, and it can treat to much lower levels of atrazine than can be achieved with the current solution, activated carbon.
–University of Minnesota News Release
San Diego to test gray water for drinking
The San Diego City Council awarded a $6.6 million contract to build a test facility that will treat wastewater and turn it into safe drinking water.
The contract went to global engineering firm Camp Dresser and McKee to design, test and operate the small-scale plant in order to deem whether a similar system should be used on a greater scale.
The council voted 6-2 in support of the project — an ideological shift from discussions over the past two decades about turning wastewater into drinking water.
Opponents of the treatment process in the past derided it as “toilet to tap.” However, there was not a single member of the public who spoke out against it at the council meeting.
Rather, nearly a dozen speakers representing groups ranging from the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the San Diego Building Industry Association came to show their support.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune
Jordan River fit for baptisms, Israel says
Israel insisted that a site on the Jordan river reputed to be the spot where Jesus was baptised is “fit for baptism,” rejecting a claim water pollution has reached dangerous levels.
Bacteriological tests at Qasr al-Yehud “prove that the Jordan River water in the area is fit for baptism,” the military office in charge of administration of the occupied West Bank said in a statement.
“It should be noted that the test showed 88 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water whereas the relevant health ministry standard is 1,000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water,” the statement said.
But Friends of the Earth Middle East reiterated its call for baptisms to be banned at the lower Jordan River and dismissed the result of the test, pointing out that other tests have shown pollution levels to be far higher.
–AFP News Service