Drug collections; a documentary reviewed

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.

Special drug collections set Saturday, Sept. 25
Dozens of police departments and county sheriffs in Minnesota and Wisconsin are taking part in a special effort to collect unused and out-of-date prescription and nonprescription drugs on Saturday, Sept. 25.

 The collection effort was organized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and it is aimed at preventing accidental poisonings of children, keeping drugs out of toilets and drains — where they pollute lakes and rivers — and out of garbage cans — where the drugs sometimes fall into the hands of drug abusers. Drugs collected on Saturday will be incinerated. 

Six counties in or near the Twin Cities metro area – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington and Sherburne – are among more than 3,400 groups nationwide that are taking part in the collections, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many western Wisconsin police and sheriff’s agencies also are taking part. In some cases, you may need to live in the county conducting the collection to be allowed to drop off drugs there. 

To find a collection near you, go to the DEA web site. Taking drugs to a collection, such as these, is the best option for disposal. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has guidelines for disposal when a collection is not available. 

U of M suspends opening of film on ag pollution
Two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota abruptly put on hold the scheduled release of a documentary film about pollution of the Mississippi River by agricultural nutrients and other contaminants. The documentary was partly funded by a $349,000 state grant. Here are reports on the university action by: the Star Tribune; the Pioneer Press; Minnesota Public Radio; the Twin Cities Daily Planet online publication, which first reported the university’s sudden postponement of a premiere of the film; and an official statement from the university’s Bell Museum, which was responsible for production of the film. 

Can barley bales beat algae?
Stillwater residents who live around McKusick Lake are using a novel—and natural—way to get rid of the algae that’s clouding their lake: a bale of barley.

 Residents pooled their money earlier this year to buy a 700-pound bale of barley straw, divide it up and sink it in the lake.

 So far, so good, said Bruce Werre, who lives on the lake and has been spearheading the barley drive.

“Let’s put it this way: The algae has not reared its ugly head again,” Werre said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m optimistic enough to have quadrupled our order for next year.” 

A major algae bloom in May after several rainstorms and a heat wave led Werre and about 10 other members of the McKusick Lake Water Association to spend $300 on the project.

“It was the weekend of the fishing opener. I left on May 14, and the lake was beautiful,” Werre said. “I came back on May 18, and the lake was covered—completely covered. We just needed to do something. This was something that we could do as far as boots on the ground and feet in the water to try and combat the algae.” 

Studies have shown that decomposing barley straw releases an enzyme that inhibits new algae growth, said Erik Anderson, a water resource specialist with the Washington Conservation District. In 2002 and 2003, the district released barley straw to combat algae growth in Gellums Bay of Big Marine Lake, but it didn’t work and hasn’t been used since, he said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Research: Manganese in water affects IQ
An IQ comparison shows that Canadian regulations on manganese in drinking water should be updated to protect children, Quebec researchers say. 

The average IQ of children whose tap water was in the upper 20 per cent of manganese concentration was six points below children whose water contained little or no manganese, the researchers found.

The study looked at 362 children aged six to 13. The amount of manganese from tap water and food was estimated, based on the results of a questionnaire. 

Manganese is a naturally occurring metal found in groundwater. It is an essential nutrient, but in excessive amounts, it can damage the nervous system. It occurs in naturally high levels in several parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and other regions, researchers say. 

Their study, published in the online issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, focused on manganese levels in drinking water in eight communities along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City.
–CBC News 

Xcel plans to remove Granite Falls dam
Local residents expressed concerns at a town hall meeting in Granite Falls as Xcel Energy presented a plan to remove the Minnesota Falls Dam located three miles downstream from the city.

 More than 100 years old, the dam was constructed in 1905 to provide hydroelectric power but has not been used to generate electricity since 1961. In the 1930s the dam provided chilled water to an Xcel Energy coal-fired power plant, but since the plant’s closure Xcel officials said the deteriorating structure serves no purpose and has been nothing but a potential liability to the company.

 The decision to remove the dam does not come without controversy. Several businesses upstream from the river, such as Granite Falls Energy and the Granite Falls Golf Course, use water intake structures on the river that would be affected if water levels drop as a result of the dam removal.

“Water levels will go down if the dam is removed,” Tom MacDonald, an engineer with Barr Engineering, who was hired by Xcel Energy to analyze the dam, said. “Granite Falls Energy will be impacted the most.”
–The Independent

Wisconsin citizens monitor mussels
ROME, Wis. — On a recent September evening, 17 people gingerly waded into the cool, fast-flowing waters of the Bark River outside this Jefferson County village and commenced a search for some of Wisconsin’s rarest and most threatened creatures.

 There, not far from the village’s backyards and within sight of a barnyard or two, they started finding as exotic a menagerie as one might imagine finding in the most remote rainforest. Fat muckets and elktoes. Threeridges and pigtoes. Pocketbooks and ellipses and black sandshells. 

These delightfully named river denizens are all freshwater mussels, or what most know as clams. The health of their populations in the state’s rivers are an excellent indication of the health of our waters, according to Lisie Kitchell, a DNR conservation biologist whose speciality is mussels. 

Now, a new citizen monitoring program is sending Wisconsin residents into their neighborhood rivers and streams to provide the first new information on the state’s mussels since data was last gathered in the 1970s.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

Groundwater pollutants blames on ‘fracking’
Water testing by a private environmental engineering firm has discovered toxic chemicals in wells in a township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Victoria Switzer, a resident of the northeastern Pennsylvania township of Dimock, revealed the results of the water tests from her well this week at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, New York.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a controversial process used to extract natural gas from deep underground. Critics say chemicals used in the process can be injected into groundwater.

 U.S. military to cut water, energy use
Defense Department officials plan to reduce the military’s water and fossil fuels consumption by more than 20 percent in the next decade under an Obama administration plan to make government agencies better stewards of the environment.

 The department’s priorities for this year and next are to invest in fixed installations, enhance buildings and ensure sustainability concepts in doctrine and policy, Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in the department’s portion of the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

 White House officials released the plan Sept. 9. It includes a roadmap submitted from each department outlining how they will reduce their impact on the environment while meeting mission goals. The plan is the result of an executive order by President Barack Obama.
–Defense Department News Release

Opinion: Restoring Lake Pepin is a priority
The little fishing boat launched as usual from Hansen’s Harbor for a late-summer excursion on Lake Pepin, the Mississippi River’s broad-shouldered bend through the lush bluffs of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin. But just beyond the shoreline riprap, a troubling sight came into focus. 

Something resembling a giant, fluorescent mat of Astroturf carpeted the waves ahead. The same green gunk coated other swaths of the sailboat-studded lake — bringing back memories of the 1988 blue-green algae bloom that caused foul-smelling scum and localized fish kills. 

A closer look at the oatmeal-like growth, along with calls to the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of natural resources, quickly allayed fears that blue-green algae was back. The swaths on the lake this summer are a relatively benign type of aquatic plant called duckweed that may have been swept downriver by this summer’s heavy rainfall.

While the duckweed diagnosis isn’t cause for alarm, its startling appearance should serve as a reminder that Pepin remains an impaired water body whose very existence is at risk.
–The Star Tribune

‘Green’ products come with tradeoffs
Some longtime users were furious.

 “My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed,” one wrote last week in the review section of the Web site for the Cascade line of dishwasher detergents. “It was horrible, and I won’t buy it again.”

 “This is the worst product ever made for use as a dishwashing detergent!” another consumer wrote.

 Like every other major detergent for automatic dishwashers, Proctor & Gamble’s Cascade line recently underwent a makeover. Responding to laws that went into effect in 17 states in July, the nation’s detergent makers reformulated their products to reduce what had been the crucial ingredient, phosphates, to just a trace.

 While phosphates help prevent dishes from spotting in the wash cycle, they have long ended up in lakes and reservoirs, stimulating algae growth that deprives other plants and fish of oxygen. 

Yet now, with the content reduced, many consumers are finding the new formulas as appealing as low-flow showers, underscoring the tradeoffs that people often face today in a more environmentally conscious marketplace.
–The New York Times