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.
Register now for lecture on pollution and birth defects
Less than two weeks remain to register to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist.
Guillette’s lecture – at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota – is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.
Guillette, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, spent 25 years studying sexually stunted alligators living in polluted lakes in Florida.
His lecture, titled “Contaminants, Water and Our Health: New Lessons from Wildlife,” will deal with links between water pollution and birth defects – in animals and in humans. For information, and to register, go to www.freshwater.org. To read an interview with Guillette, published in the Freshwater Society’s September newsletter, click here.
Asian carp case back in court
The 30-pound silver carp that leapt from the water and knocked a kayaker out of a 340-mile race down the Missouri River is a reminder of what’s at stake when the Asian carp debate returns to court in Chicago.
Five Great Lakes states are suing the federal government to force closing of Chicago-area shipping locks as a last-ditch effort to keep the invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. But closing locks in the waterway system, even for a short time, could deal a crippling blow to the shipping and boating industries that help drive Illinois’ economy, business leaders say.
This case “is a tremendous risk for the city of Chicago and the region’s economy, traffic congestion and flood control,” said Jim Farrell, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to keep the locks open. “This irresponsible filing has very serious consequences.”
The anticipated three-day legal showdown was to begin Sept. 7 in federal court as attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota try to persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Dow that Asian carp pose such a grave threat to the Great Lakes that nothing short of an emergency shutdown of the system will stop them.
–The Chicago Tribune
Coon Rapids dam eyed as carp barrier
Can the 97-year-old Coon Rapids dam over the Mississippi River serve as Minnesota’s barrier to the northward migration of unwanted fish, including the notorious Asian carp?
Stanley Consultants, an international firm with an office in Wayzata, has a $164,087 contract with Three Rivers Park District to answer that question by the first of next year.
The west-suburban park district, which owns and operates the dam, will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from a $500,000 fund set up by the Legislature to create a fish barrier on the Mississippi.
Although the dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the Ford Dam in St. Paul and the Hastings Dam are taller and therefore better blocks to the invasive fish, they all have locks that allow fish to move upstream with boats, said Luke Skinner, DNR supervisor of the state’s invasive species program. “Coon Rapids dam is the first dam on the river that does not have a lock.”
–The Star Tribune
GE exec calls low prices for water ‘wacky’
Why doesn’t water get more attention?
According to Jeff Fulgham, it’s because it’s available on demand virtually everywhere — from taps to toilets to showers and sinks.
But as the newly-appointed chief sustainability officer of GE Power and Water — as well as the division’s Ecomagination leader — Fulgham knows better. The reality is that the world is quickly running out of water — and if we don’t do anything about it, what was once ubiquitous will become scarce in some of the world’s most populous areas.
U.S. energy use dipped in 2009
A bright spot in the nation’s flickering economy is that Americans used less energy last year than in 2008, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently published its findings online.
“Part of the reason is [that] the whole economy shrank,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at Livermore who calculated that overall energy use in the country dropped from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008 to 94.6 quadrillion in 2009. “People are doing less stuff overall, using less oil, saving money.”
Another reason, Simon added, is that the residential, industrial, commercial and transportation sectors of the economy are using more products that are energy-efficient.
“People put in [compact fluorescent light bulbs],” Simon said, “and they actually use less electricity, and that change percolates all the way through the energy system.”
The data also revealed that people are increasingly relying on hydropower, geothermal and wind energy, thereby cutting their use of coal, natural gas and petroleum.
–The Washington Post
Spotted owls continue to decline
Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren’t certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them.
The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps.
Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington State, they’re declining at 6 percent to 7 percent a year.
While that may seem like a small number, it adds up, said Eric Forsman, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., who’s studied the owl since 1968.
The fight over the owl, however, perhaps the fiercest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, was always about more than just protecting a surprisingly friendly, football-sized bird with dark feathers, dark eyes and white spots.
–McLatchy News Service
USGS research focuses on road salt toxicity
The use of salt to deice pavement can leave urban streams toxic to aquatic life, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study on the influence of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities, with a special focus on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.
More than half of the Milwaukee streams included in this study had samples that were toxic during winter deicing. In eastern and southern Wisconsin, all streams studied had potentially toxic chloride concentrations during winter, with lingering effects into the summer at some streams. Nationally, samples from fifty-five percent of streams studied in 13 northern cities were potentially toxic; twenty-five percent of the streams had samples that exceeded acute water quality criteria.
Toxicity was measured by direct testing of organisms in samples during the local study component; in the regional and the national study components, observed chloride levels were used to assess potential toxicity.
“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” said Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. “The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” said Corsi, who led the study.
–US Geological Survey News Release
First, the good news: Potomac shows improvement
The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests. Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study.
Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK.
“Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area,” said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release
Now, the bad news: Coastal ‘dead zones’ increase
A report issued by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend. The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed—have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960, when data started to be collected.
The report was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had significant inputs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It provides a comprehensive list of the more than 300 U.S. coastal water bodies affected by hypoxia and, in eight case studies, highlights a range of representative ecosystems affected by hypoxia.
The full release and report can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/oceans.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release
Big banks grow leery of environmental risks
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.
For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.
After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.
In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
–The New York Times
EPA declines to ban lead bullets
The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a request that it ban lead bullets, saying it does not have the legal authority to do so. The American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for the ban. The Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the petition was made, exempts ammunition from its controls. The agency will, however, seek comment on the merit of a ban on lead fishing sinkers. Adam Keats, a senior counsel for the center, said in a news release that “the E.P.A. has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition.”
–The New York Times
San Francisco proposes effluent re-use
It doesn’t sound like a radical idea: Watering Golden Gate Park’s meadows and bowers with treated wastewater.
But for a city that for 75 years has relied on a pristine water supply from the Sierra Nevada, it is.
San Francisco’s water utility will unveil a proposal for the city’s first large-scale water recycling project, an arc-shaped facility near Ocean Beach that would filter and disinfect 2 million gallons of sewer and storm water each day for use on 1,000 acres of San Francisco land.
The $152 million Westside Recycled Water Project would be used to water Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park.
–The San Francisco Chronicle
MPCA seeks comment on Como Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Como Lake in St. Paul. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, focuses on pollution caused by excess nutrients. A public comment period began Aug. 30 and continues through Sept. 29.
The Como Lake watershed is located in the north-central portion of the Capitol Region Watershed District and is within the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The 69-acre lake is a popular recreational water body used for fishing, boating and aesthetic viewing.
The lake was placed on the state’s impaired waters list because of excess nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and plants, it is considered a pollutant when it stimulates excessive growth of algae or aquatic plants.
The TMDL study indicated that the overall phosphorus load to Como Lake will need to be reduced by 60 percent in order to meet water quality standards.
After receiving public comments, the MPCA will revise the draft Como Lake TMDL report and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Following approval, a plan will be developed to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake.
The Como Lake TMDL draft report is available on the Web at, or at the MPCA St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments may be submitted to Brooke Asleson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Asleson at 651-757-2205.
–MPCA News Release
Abandoned turtles threaten LA waters
When a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department task force followed a tip about illegal fireworks in San Pedro on the fourth of July, a stash of 10,000 live baby turtles was the last thing they expected to find.
“There were about 500 turtles in each box – and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford, the adoption chairwoman of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s Foothill chapter.
Along with other members, Crawford took in thousands of the “filthy” and sick animals – red-eared slider turtles reportedly smuggled cross-country from their native Louisiana. Despite antibiotics, more than half died. The rest were adopted out, Crawford said.
In an effort to quell the spread of salmonella to children, federal law has prohibited the sale of any turtle under four inches since 1975. But authorities say that hasn’t slowed black-market sales of the ever-popular red-eared sliders.
–The Pasadena Star-News