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.
Lecture to explore pollution-birth defect link
It’s not too late to register to attend the Tuesday, Sept. 14, lecture by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist. Guillette, who spent 25 years researching the impact of water pollution on alligators and other wildlife, will present a free, public lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of St. Paul Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.
Guillette’s research indicates common pollutants, including endocrine-disruptors, are causing birth defects, both in animals and humans.
Go to www.freshwater.org for details. Dr. Guillette also will be interviewed at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show.
Debate still rages over bisphenol-A
The research has been going on for more than 10 years. Studies number in the hundreds. Millions of dollars have been spent. But government health officials still cannot decide whether the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, a component of some plastics, is safe. The substance lines most food and drink cans, and is used to make hard, clear plastic bottles, containers and countless other products. Nearly everyone is exposed to it.
Concerns about BPA stem from studies in lab animals and cell cultures showing it can mimic the hormone estrogen. It is considered an “endocrine disruptor,” a term applied to chemicals that can act like hormones. But whether it does any harm in people is unclear.
Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted, with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.
–The New York Times
Study: Irrigation masks some climate warming
Expanded irrigation has made it possible to feed the world’s growing billions — and it may also temporarily be counteracting the effects of climate change in some regions, say scientists in a new study. But some major groundwater aquifers, a source of irrigation water, are projected to dry up in coming decades from continuing overuse, and when they do, people may face the double whammy of food shortages and higher temperatures.
A new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research pinpoints where the trouble spots may be.
“Irrigation can have a significant cooling effect on regional temperatures, where people live,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Puma, a hydrologist who works jointly with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and its affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “An important question for the future is what happens to the climate if the water goes dry and the cooling disappears? How much warming is being hidden by irrigation?”
Asian carp ‘czar’ named
The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response for keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.
On a conference call, President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the nearly $80 million federal attack against Asian carp.
The carp, which have steadily moved toward Chicago since the 1990s, are aggressive eaters and frequently beat out native fish for food, threatening those populations.
Goss was director of the Indiana department under two governors and served for four years as executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. His challenge will be to oversee several studies — including one looking into shutting down the Chicago waterway system linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River — and to bring together Great Lakes states locked in a court battle over the response to the Asian carp threat.
–The Chicago Tribune
DNR: White Bear Lake needs more rain
For Bill and Kitty Anderson, White Bear Lake residents who fish on their hometown lake every week, waiting for rain to refill their fishing hole was no longer good enough.
At a public meeting at White Bear Lake City Hall, the couple and at least 100 other residents listened to hydrologists and climatologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain why the lake level has fallen five feet over the past three summers. The DNR blames persistent dry and drought conditions.
In terms of solutions, Bill Anderson asked, why not run water from somewhere else, like the Mississippi River, into White Bear Lake?
The water quality of the river doesn’t match the lake’s, the DNR specialists said.
The city organized the meeting after several summers of dry weather have contributed to the lake dropping and receding from its shoreline — by more than 100 feet in some areas.
The meeting was timely — the lake reached a new all-time low days before, hitting 919.65 feet above sea level, down from the normal watermark of 924.89 feet above sea level, according to DNR data.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Colorado wastewater affecting fish
Wastewater pouring from sewage-treatment plants in Boulder and Denver is bending the gender of fish living downstream, a new study has found.
Some of these strangely sexed sucker fish have male and female organs, and others have sexual deformities, according to a study by University of Colorado researchers.
“It’s sort of a sentinel for us,” said David Norris, a CU biologist and an author of the report. “Every major city in the Western U.S. is looking at it.”
The paper, published this month in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, is the first peer-reviewed study documenting the reproductive problems of fish downstream from Colorado wastewater-treatment plants.
Similarly odd fish have been found in England and in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
–The Denver Post
Hydro-power making comeback
The giant pipes wheeze and rumble, the whoosh of water coursing through them as noisy as a freeway. The Mount Elbert hydropower plant high in the Rocky Mountains isn’t much to look at—or listen to. But to true believers, it’s a road map to a greener future.
Hydropower, shunned just a few years ago as an environmental scourge, is experiencing a remarkable resurgence in the U.S. Dams are still viewed warily; in fact, Congress is considering dismantling four hydroelectric dams blamed for depleting salmon in the Klamath River basin in southern Oregon and northern California.
But engineers and entrepreneurs are pressing an alternative view of hydropower that doesn’t involve new dams. They argue that plenty of efficient, economical energy can be wrung from other water resources, including ocean waves, free-flowing rivers, irrigation ditches—even the effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities.
–The Wall Street Journal
If water smells bad, it probably is
Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published USGS study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.
“It is commonly believed that there are no health risks associated with taste-and-odor compounds,” said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study. “While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled. This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated.”
Cyanotoxins are produced by some cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria commonly form a blue-green, red or brown film-like layer on the surface of lakes and reservoirs. This phenomenon is frequently noticed in the United States during the summer, but also occurs during other seasons.
Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock. Removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive. Cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water contaminant candidate list, and many states include cyanotoxins in their freshwater beach-monitoring programs.
–USGS News Release
California now lags in waste-to-energy race
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Government officials from around the world used to come to this port city to catch a glimpse of the future: Two-story piles of trash would disappear into a furnace and eventually be transformed into electricity to power thousands of homes.
Nowadays, it’s U.S. officials going to Canada, Japan and parts of Western Europe to see the latest advances.
The Long Beach plant, for all its promise when it began operations roughly 20 years ago, still churns out megawatts. But it is a relic, a symbol of how California, one of America’s greenest states, fell behind other countries in the development of trash-to-energy technology.
–The Associated Press
DNR warns boaters on invasive species
With the growing popularity of autumn fishing and the Minnesota waterfowl season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, there could be considerable boat traffic on state waters once again this fall.
“That means the potential for spreading invasive species will continue until freeze-up so it’s important that boaters keep in mind the law concerning transporting aquatic vegetation on boats and trailers.” said Lt. Cory Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area conservation officer supervisor at Litchfield.
Because human activity is a frequent cause for spreading invasive species to new lakes, a state law was passed making it illegal to transport any type of aquatic vegetation on a boat or trailer, even if the vegetation is not invasive, Palmer said.
–DNR News Release
Montreal tap water fills Aqufina bottles
Water conservation groups say the City of Montreal should increase how much it charges companies to turn its cheap tap water into bottled water for a profit.
Last year, the beverage giant PepsiCo began pumping municipal water into its Pepsi-QTG plant in Ville St. Laurent. The company filters the water and then bottles it under the brand name Aquafina.
The Polaris Institute and Quebec’s Coalition Eau Secours said the City of Montreal isn’t charging companies like PepsiCo enough money to use municipal water as the basis for its bottled water product.
FDA considers genetically modified salmon
Will the Food and Drug Administration approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption? The animal is a genetically engineered salmon that grows to market size twice as fast as conventional salmon. And the FDA will be holding public meetings about that fish starting on September 19th.
The company behind the salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, got a thumbs-up last week from a panel of FDA scientists. They concluded there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal.
–National Public Radio
Invasive quagga mussels threaten L. Michigan
An invasive species of mussel called quagga has recently begun eating its way through the phytoplankton population of Lake Michigan, which could have dire effects on the lake’s ecosystem, scientists now warn.
A giant ring of phytoplankton (microscopic plants such as algae) was discovered in Lake Michigan in 1998 by Michigan Technological University biologist W. Charles Kerfoot and his research team. The “phytoplankton doughnut” is formed when winter storms kick up nutrient-rich sediment along the southeastern shore of the lake. The disturbed sediments begin circulating in a slow-moving circle with the lake’s currents, which provides a massive supply of food for phytoplankton.
–Our Amazing Planet
Holes found in bed of White Bear Lake
A series of holes discovered in the sandy lake bed off Manitou Island had state natural resources officials investigating the site and speculating about the sudden appearance.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Supervisor of Groundwater and Hydrology Jennie Leete and Hydrologist Craig Wills inspected a 6-inch deep, 4-foot by 4-foot hole about 25 feet off shore on the south side of the island Sept. 3. The hole was discovered Aug. 25.
Leete and Willis said it appears the hole may be part of a spring that has been revealed by historically low lake water levels. The pair said they did not believe water was leaking down into the hole.
“I’d be shocked if the water was going (down),” said Willis. “We think the water is (going up) into the lake.”
–The White Bear Press