Water prosecutions dip; EPA readies Florida rules

EPA water prosecutions decline again
Criminal enforcement of federal water-pollution laws has continued a more than decadelong slide under the Obama administration, despite pledged improvements, according to U.S. EPA data.

The government reported 32 new Clean Water Act convictions during the fiscal year that ended in September, down from 42 in 2009. The number of criminal water pollution cases initiated by the agency fell from 28 last year to 21 this year.

Both figures have dropped nearly 60 percent since the late 1990s, their highest points in the past 20 years.

The numbers indicate that the Obama administration so far has been unable to reverse a trend that started under President George W. Bush, when EPA criminal enforcement activity dropped in conjunction with a 27 percent cut to U.S. EPA’s overall budget, said William Andreen, an environmental law professor at the University of Alabama.
–The New York Times

 EPA readies Florida water standards
Florida is bracing for the federal government to impose tough new pollution limits on its rivers and lakes. Depending on the point of view, the new rules will clobber an already weak economy — or bring a welcome end to fish kills, algae blooms and contaminated water supplies.

The rules, which could be released any day, have triggered rancorous debate, pitting, for example, a U.S. senator against a confrontational environmentalist who specializes in lawsuits.

The first-of-their kind regulations, drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,  will set “numeric” pollution limits for streams and lakes based on their type and location — not necessarily on each body of water’s individual characteristics.

The state of Florida, in contrast, has long relied on customized limits derived from lake-by-lake and river-by-river analyses — an approach criticized by environmentalists as far too slow and cumbersome.

The pollution targeted by these limits consists of various nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that act as liquid fertilizer in nature. Such compounds are found in treated sewage, stormwater runoff, farm discharges and many manufacturers’ wastewater.
–The Orlando Sentinel 

 U of M rates high for sustainability
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is one of only three schools in the nation that has received all “A’s” in the College Sustainability Report Card scores. This is the fifth consecutive year the U of M has improved its marks and the first time the university has received A’s in all nine categories.

 The College Sustainability Report Card surveyed 322 schools this year.

 In 2004, the Board of Regents established the Policy on Sustainability and Energy Efficiency, which has fostered the integration of sustainability into research, education, outreach and campus operations.

 This is the fifth annual Report Card issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a Cambridge, Mass.-based non-profit organization engaged in research and education to advance sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices.

The university’s sustainability profile can be found on the GreenReportCard.org web site.
–University of Minnesota news release

 Draft USDA report calls for farmers to do more
Seeming to contradict assertions by farmers that they’re doing their share to protect the Chesapeake Bay, a new federal report finds major shortcomings in what crop growers are doing across the six-state region to keep from polluting the troubled estuary.

 While farmers have made “good progress” in reducing the amount of soil and fertilizer washing off their fields into the bay and its rivers, more pollution controls are needed on about 81 percent of all the croplands, says the draft report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And nearly half of the region’s 4.3 million acres of croplands are “critically undertreated” to keep pollutants from running or seeping into nearby ditches and streams.

The 161-page federal report — the most comprehensive analysis of farm conservation practices in the bay region to date — relies on computer modeling and hundreds of soil and other samples taken across the region, plus a survey of farmers. It has not been officially released, but an Internet link to a “review draft” was distributed to news media and to environmental groups.

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service released a statement saying that the draft report, though still under review, “suggests that conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay are working but “more work remains to be done.”
–The Baltimore Sun

Texas farmers, ranchers worry about water rights
The rule of capture has been just as much a part of Texas lore as cowboys and cattle.

Under that concept, landowners have had the right to pump an unlimited amount of water from beneath their land.

 But rancher J.K. “Rooter” Brite Jr. is worried — worried that the courts, legislators or groundwater districts might take that water right away.

Brite, 58, isn’t opposed to all regulation — he doesn’t approve of water marketers like billionaire Boone Pickens sucking aquifers dry, and he believes that groundwater districts can provide some protection from the oil and gas industry — but he said strict groundwater-use regulations could cripple his ranching operation during a drought. 

“If that right doesn’t belong to me, and I do benefit because I know it’s in reserve, then what incentive do I have to care for this land?” Brite said as he drove his pickup through tall stands of native grasses on his 3,400-acre ranch outside Bowie.
–The Fort  Worth Star Telegram

Grocery chains push sustainable farming
Veteran west-side farmer John Diener has always felt confident in his ability to grow quality tomatoes, almonds and wheat — but to some, that may not be good enough. 

Responding to consumer sentiments, grocery-chain buyers are pushing Diener and other farmers to show they practice “sustainable” agriculture — a popular if still fuzzy concept. 

While similar to organic farming, its focus is broader: In contrast to conventional farming, sustainable agriculture puts greater emphasis on practices that have long-term benefits. For example, instead of using harsh chemicals, some farmers rely on parasitic insects to battle bad bugs. Or they use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Others work on improving the standard of living for farmworkers, ensuring a more productive and stable labor force.

The goal of sustainability is to reduce farming’s impact on the environment while ensuring a future for agriculture.

 Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced on Oct. 14 a global plan to train 1 million farmers and workers on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices, including using water, pesticides and fertilizers more efficiently.–The Fresno Bee 

U.S. Navy tests algae-powered gunboat
It looked like a pretty ordinary day on the water at the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia: a few short bursts of speed, a nice tail wind, some test manoeuvres against an enemy boat. 

But the 49ft gunboat had algae-based fuel in the tank in a test hailed by the navy as a milestone in its creation of a new, energy-saving strike force. 

The experimental boat, intended for use in rivers and marshes and eventually destined for oil installations in the Middle East, operated on a 50/50 mix of algae-based fuel and diesel. “It ran just fine,” said Rear Admiral Philip Cullom, who directs the navy’s sustainability division. 

The tests are part of a broader drive within the navy to run 50% of its fleet on a mix of renewable fuels and nuclear power by 2020. The navy currently meets about 16% of its energy and fuel needs from nuclear power, with the rest from conventional sources.
–The Guardian

 China’s dams change live on the Mekong
The Mekong River sparkles in the early morning sun as Somwang Prommin, a stocky fisherman wearing a worn-out black T-shirt and shorts, starts the motor of his boat. As the tiny craft glides on the river’s calm surface in the northeastern Thai district of Chiang Khong, Somwang points to a nearby riverbank. Three days ago, he says, the water levels there were 3 meters (10 feet) higher.

 The Mekong, which translates roughly as “mother of the waters” in the Thai language, has become unpredictable since China started building hydropower dams and blasting the rapids upstream, says Somwang, 36, who’s been fishing for a living since he was 8.

 In August 2008, there were devastating floods that reduced his catches and income, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December 2010 issue. Early this year, he witnessed the most severe drought in his life.

 Tens of millions of residents are experiencing similar currents of change along the 4,800-kilometer-long (2,980-mile- long) Mekong, which flows through six countries — Southeast Asia’s longest river.
–Bloomberg Markets Magazine