Report: World's rivers in crisis

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.

Report: Water supply in doubt for 80% of world
The world’s rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

 The report, published in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world’s rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world’s human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.
–U.S. News & World Report

 Clean Water Council proposes $173 million for water
The Clean Water Council, which advises the Minnesota governor and Legislature on water policy, is seeking public comment on draft recommendations for spending $173 million over the next two years. That is up $21 million from the current budget cycle.

The recommendations propose broad categories of spending for the Clean Water Fund money the state will receive from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008. 

Under the recommendations: 

  • Thirty-nine percent of the money would be spend on protecting surface waters from diffuse pollution that comes from many sources and on restoring waters already damaged by that kind of pollution.
  •  Twenty percent would be spent on protecting and restoring waters damaged, or in danger of damage, from large single-source polluters, such as sewage treatment plants, industries and large feedlots.
  • Thirteen percent would be spent protecting and restoring watersheds, the land areas drained by surface waters.
  • Twelve percent would be spent on testing lakes and streams for pollution.
  • Eight percent each for drinking water protection and water research.

 The Clean Water Council comment period ends Oct. 14. To comment, contact Celine Lyman at

 It’s not just the economy, stupid.
Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently provided significant looks at Minnesota’s three major candidates for governor and their positions on major environmental issues. The issues include: alternative energy and nuclear power, sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota and agricultural pollution. To check out MPR reporter Stephanie Hemphill’s interviews, click here. To read Pioneer Press reporter Dennis Lien’s report, click here. 

EPA says Illinois soft on factory farms
Illinois is failing to crack down on water pollution from large confined-animal farms, the Obama administration announced in a stinging rebuke that gave the state a month to figure out how to fix its troubled permitting and enforcement programs. 

Responding to a petition from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its nearly yearlong investigation found widespread problems with the Illinois EPA’s oversight of confined-animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Many of the cattle, hog and chicken operations produce manure in amounts comparable to the waste generated by small towns. 

Federal investigators accused Illinois of failing to lock many farms into permits that limit water pollution. The state also has been slow to respond to citizen complaints or take formal enforcement action against big feedlots and dairies that violate federal and state environmental laws, the U.S. EPA said. 

As large “factory farms” have spread across the nation, they have prompted scores of complaints about manure odors and raised concerns about massive waste lagoons contaminating groundwater. The U.S. EPA’s 41-page report reflects President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to get tough with confined-animal operations, which steadily have replaced smaller family farms.

Fairmont ethanol plant to pay $285,000 penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Buffalo Lake Energy LLC has agreed to pay a $285,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Fairmont. 

The agreement covers violations that occurred since the facility began production in June 2008.  On numerous occasions the company’s operations violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits. 

The most significant source of the water quality violations was that the company built and operated a different wastewater treatment system than was permitted by the MPCA.  The system did not perform adequately to ensure that pollutants discharged from the facility met the permit’s effluent limits.  The facility discharged wastewater to Center Creek which violated its permitted limits for toxicity, a measure of potential harm to aquatic organisms.
–MPCA News Release 

EPA agrees to 30-delay in Florida rules
Federal environmental regulators have agreed to a one-month delay before forcing Florida to adopt controversial water pollution standards that critics contend could cost the state billions. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection had planned to impose the rules on Oct. 15, but agreed to push them back to review a gush of public comments, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. 

Nelson had written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging a postponement. 

In a news release, he said he supported tougher standards but was concerned by the potential costs and validity of the science. 

The proposed rules, which would place strict numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida lakes, rivers and streams, have been opposed by a coalition of water management agencies, utilities, industry, business and farming groups.
–The Miami Herald 

Toxic runoff found near BWCA
Pollution problems near the Boundary Waters are raising concerns about future Minnesota mining projects.

 Environmental groups have found high concentrations of metals leaching into streams and wetlands from two long-closed sources: one old test mine and one abandoned mine. The pollution runs off waste rock excavated decades ago and piled at the sites.

Alerted by a resident near Ely, Friends of the Boundary Waters collected samples of the seeping water at one of the sites this summer. 

An independent lab analysis confirmed that it contained arsenic, copper, nickel and iron at concentrations hundreds of times higher than state water quality standards allow for chronic exposure.
–The Star Tribune

MPG of U.S. cars barely budges in 25 years
As the U.S. seeks to reduce oil consumption, not all the news is bad: For years, automakers have been selling Americans cars with ever more efficient engines. In fact, a car purchased today is able to extract nearly twice as much power from a gallon of gas as its counterpart did 25 years ago.

The trouble is that over the same period, cars have become bigger and more powerful. As a result, the average mileage of the cars and light trucks on the road in the United States has barely budged since 1985.

“Automakers have been improving efficiency for years,” said John DeCicco, a University of Michigan senior lecturer who studies the issue. “But those gains haven’t gone into fuel economy. They’ve gone into giving consumers cars with greater size and muscle.”
–The Washington Post

China plans $62 billion water project
It might be the most ambitious construction project in China since the Great Wall.

The Chinese government is planning to reroute the nation’s water supply, bringing water from the flood plains of the south and the snowcapped mountains of the west to the parched capital of Beijing. First envisioned by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s and now coming to fruition, the South-North Water Diversion — as it is inelegantly known in English — has a price tag of more than $62 billion, twice as expensive as the famous Three Gorges Dam. It is expected to take decades to complete.

“This is on a par with the Great Wall, a project essential for the survival of China,” said Wang Shushan, who heads the project in Henan province, where much of the construction is now taking place. “It is a must-do project. We can’t afford to wait.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 New York plans novel sewer improvement
New York City wants to catch and store rainwater temporarily in new roof systems to stop heavy storms sending sewage spilling into city waterways. 

The catchment systems would consist of “blue” roofs that have a series of drainage pools and “green” or grass- or ivy-covered roofs, under a plan unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg estimates the city could save $2.4 billion over 20 years if the state allows it to use this kind of green technology instead of relying on so-called grey infrastructure, such as storage tanks and tunnels.

Day of reckoning coming for Colorado River
A once-unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

 Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.

 For the first time, federal estimates issued in August indicate that Lake Mead, the heart of the lower Colorado basin’s water system — irrigating lettuce, onions and wheat in reclaimed corners of the Sonoran Desert, and lawns and golf courses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — could drop below a crucial demarcation line of 1,075 feet.

 If it does, that will set in motion a temporary distribution plan approved in 2007 by the seven states with claims to the river and by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be reduced.
–The New York Times

MPCA seeks comments on Medicine Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Medicine Lake in the city of Plymouth. The MPCA has identified the lake as an impaired water body because it contains excess phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to algae overgrowth and disruption of swimming, fishing and other forms of recreation.  Comments on the report are being accepted through Nov. 3, 2010.

 The MPCA found that about half of phosphorus pollution in Medicine Lake comes from stormwater. Phosphorus levels in stormwater rise when leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers are allowed to wash into storm sewers. In developed areas such as the land surrounding Medicine Lake, water flowing off paved surfaces diverts phosphorus-containing organic material directly into streams and lakes.

 The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, quantifies pollutant levels, identifies sources of pollution and proposes ways to bring water quality back to an acceptable level. The draft Medicine Lake TMDL report may be viewed on the MPCA web site. For more information or to submit comments, contact Brooke Asleson at or 651-757-2205.  Written questions and comments can be sent to Asleson at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release

San Diego sues neighbor over groundwater
San Diego city officials are challenging plans by the neighboring Sweetwater Authority to tap more groundwater over fears the project will deplete and degrade an important regional aquifer.

 The city has sued the Chula Vista-based water agency in Superior Court over access to groundwater — an increasingly valuable resource amid declining imports from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The two sides have been in “active settlement negotiations” for several months, said Michelle Ouellette, a partner at Best Best & Krieger, Sweetwater’s law firm. The agency provides water to 186,000 customers in National City, Bonita and Chula Vista.

 Sweetwater declined to file a legal response to the city’s lawsuit and agreed to settlement talks, Ouellette said. She said the California Environmental Quality Act “requires both sides to make good-faith efforts to settle the case.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune