The Gulf spill; 3M chemicals; 'moist soil'

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.

Scientists challenge Gulf oil assessment
Academic scientists are challenging the Obama administration’s assertion that most of BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico is either gone or rapidly disappearing — with one group announcing the discovery of a 22-mile “plume” of oil that shows little sign of vanishing.

That plume was measured in late June and was described by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The biggest news was not the plume itself: For weeks, government and university scientists have said that oil from BP’s damaged well is still underwater.

 The news was what is happening — or not happening — to it.

The scientists said that when they studied it, they saw little evidence that the oil was being rapidly consumed by the gulf’s petroleum-eating microbes. The plume was in a deep, cold region where microbes tend to work slowly.
–The Washington Post

State seeks 3M pollution compensation
The 3M Co. should pay for environmental harm done by its chemicals, according to state officials.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that it is negotiating with 3M over compensation for damage done by perfluorochemicals that leaked into Washington County groundwater.

 The state attorney general’s office, acting as the agency’s lawyer, confirmed it is interviewing city officials in Washington County to gauge the public cost of the chemical leaks.

 Agency officials said they hope to have an agreement with 3M by the end of the year.

Usually, Mother Nature doesn’t have a way to strike back at polluters. Animals have no claim in most courts — no one can sue a polluter on behalf of wildlife injured by a chemical or oil spill.

But in a process called Natural Resources Damage Assessment, spelled out in the federal Superfund law, state agencies can ask polluters for repayment.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Funding denied for temporary wetlands
A new strategy to create waterfowl habitat in Minnesota was dealt a blow when the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council rejected funding for the project.

 The Department of Natural Resources was seeking $443,500 to design and implement moist-soil management units. The new strategy to improve the state’s sagging waterfowl populations was announced in January by DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten.

 The project involves intensively managing shallow impoundments. The impoundments are drained in the summer to allow the growth of plants and then flooded in the fall so ducks can forage on the plants’ seeds and insects.

 The impoundments mimic Minnesota’s most commonly drained natural wetlands, known as seasonal or “temporal” wetlands. Moist-soil units have been used widely and successfully in other states to attract and provide food for waterfowl.

“It looks like an expensive Band-Aid; that’s how most (council members) looked at it,” said Jim Cox, a council member and former president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Septic pollution threatens Cape Cod ponds
Rising nitrogen levels are suffocating the vegetation and marine life in saltwater ponds and estuaries on Cape Cod, creating an environmental and infrastructure problem that, if left unchecked, will threaten the shellfishing industry, the tourist economy and the beaches that lure so many summer visitors. 

More than 60 ponds and estuaries on the cape and a few elsewhere in the region have been choked by algae and seaweed. The culprit is nitrogen, much of it leaching out of septic system wastewater that runs through sandy soil into the estuaries. Faced with a federal mandate to fix their polluted waterways, Cape Cod towns have spent years creating plans to clean up the wastewater, largely through sewers and clustered septic systems.

 So far, most of the efforts have been to no avail, stifled by disputes over science and over who should pay for such a sprawling and expensive public works project.
–The New York Times

Renewable energy featured at State Fair
Electricity from the sun and wind will be on display at the largest renewable energy exhibit ever held at the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair. 

Fairgoers will find out how solar energy and wind power can work for them in their daily lives. The exhibit, which includes displays inside and outside of the Eco Experience building, will feature solar-powered fans and water fountains, portable solar panels, solar-powered boats and a wind turbine sized for farm or business use. 

Many of the solar energy innovations on display at the Eco Experience are made in Minnesota. A new mirror film from 3M that concentrates sunlight on solar panels will be on display. The film helps capture more of the sun’s radiation, leading to lower solar energy costs. Silicon-Energy will display solar panels that will be manufactured on the Iron Range starting in spring 2011. Fairgoers can get a sneak peak of these panels in front of the Eco Experience building and along the Green Street display inside the building. 

Fairgoers can also see solar-powered boats built by junior high, high school and college students for the annual Solar Boat Regatta sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

 Canada to declare bisphenol A is toxic 
After a lengthy delay, the federal government said it is close to making good on its two-year old promise to designate bisphenol A as toxic under Canadian law.

The Conservatives made a big splash in April 2008 when two senior cabinet ministers hosted a news conference to announce Canada would become the first country in the world to ban plastic bottles after concluding the estrogen-mimicking chemical was toxic. The first step was to place BPA on the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. 

The ban went ahead, but the toxic designation has yet to happen. Environment Canada now says it will be a done deal within eight to 10 weeks — more than a year after considering a formal notice of objection filed by the American Chemistry Council. 

The group, which maintains BPA is safe, filed the objection on July 15, 2009, asking the government to set up a board of review to reconsider the toxic designation.
–The Vancouver Sun

 Cruise ships dump wastes off Canada
Waters off British Columbia are the “toilet bowl of North America” as dozens of cruise ships heading to and from Alaska dump sewage in Canadian waters, environmentalists say.

 American regulations have been tightened in the last decade forcing cruise ships to follow stringent sewage treatment rules before disposing of waste in Alaska or Washington State.

 But the vessels have another option: they can unload sewage and grey water —waste water from showers, sinks and laundry — into B.C. waters where rules are “lax.”

 “Cruise ship companies are taking advantage of Canada’s weaker laws on sewage discharge to save money. It is bizarre that B.C. residents should bear the burden of cruise ship pollution from well-heeled tourists,” said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive chief executive officer of the Friends of the Earth (FOE) Canada.
–The Vancouver Sun

Cost of Michigan oil spill mounts
Enbridge Inc.’s struggles mounted as its U.S. affiliate said the oil spill that fouled a Michigan river system could cost as much as $400 million and regulators slapped it with a $2.4 million fine for a deadly 2007 explosion in Minnesota.

 Enbridge Energy Partners, the Houston-based operator of the U.S. part of the company’s massive pipeline system, said total charges for the July 26 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Mich., could be $300 million to $400 million, excluding any fines or penalties. 

The cost would include charges for emergency response, environmental remediation, pipeline repairs, claims by third parties and lost revenue, Enbridge said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

After insurance recoveries, the charges could be $35 million to $45 million, said Enbridge, whose ruptured pipeline spilled 19,500 barrels of heavy Canadian crude into the Kalamazoo River system.

$12 million available for water projects
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is seeking grant applications from local government units for projects that will protect and restore Minnesota’s streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Eligible local government units include cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, and metropolitan watershed management organizations. The deadline to apply is Sept. 15. 

BWSR has $12 million available for these projects. Funding for the competitive grants is provided by the Clean Water Fund (from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment). Most of the funded projects also will leverage local or federal dollars.   

“Local conservation professionals throughout the state have experience in identifying areas that are contributing to water quality issues and implementing solutions,” said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director. “Minnesotans who are interested in learning more about how they can help protect and restore water quality should contact a local conservation agency in their area.” 

Jaschke added that BWSR reviews and approves water management plans for the local government units that are eligible for these grants. In order to receive funding, projects must implement priority activities that are identified in a state approved and locally adopted local water management plan. 
–BWSR News Release