USGS finds many birth defects in birds

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.

USGS finds many birds with birth defects in beaks
The highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations is being seen in a number of species in the Northwest and Alaska, and scientists to this point have not been able to isolate the cause.

Black-capped Chickadees, Northwestern Crows, and other birds are being impacted by the problem, which affects their ability to feed and clean themselves and could signal a growing environmental health problem. 

In birds affected by what scientists have termed “avian keratin disorder,” the keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in noticeably elongated and often crossed beaks, sometimes accompanied by abnormal skin, legs, feet, claws and feathers. Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center published their findings in this month’s issue of The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology.

 “The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than ten times what is normally expected in a wild bird population,” said research biologist Colleen Handel with the USGS, “We have seen effects not only on the birds’ survival rates, but also on their ability to reproduce and raise young. We are particularly concerned because we have not yet been able to determine the cause, despite testing for the most likely culprits.”
–USGS News Release

DNR increases monitoring of groundwater
In a state known for its abundant water, just how much can metro-area residents count on to be available in the future?

 To get at the answer, a $4 million slice of the voter-approved natural legacy fund will be used by the Department of Natural Resources to site about 40 monitoring wells around the 11-county metro area. The idea is to measure the quantity of groundwater and determine how fast it is being pumped out for homes, schools and businesses.

 The question that the DNR seeks to answer is what rate of water use can be sustained into the future.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Greg Kruse, supervisor of the DNR’s water monitoring unit. “It will take us a while to be able to show some results.”

Three monitoring wells are expected to be dug in Maple Grove, adjacent to a parking lot at Elm Creek Park Reserve, owned by Three Rivers Park District. Others are going in now near the Vermillion River outside Farmington.
–The Star Tribune

EPA acts to set pollution rules for Florida
Despite a barrage of opposition from Florida newly elected governor down to individual farmers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that has finalized its unique water pollution rules for Florida and will give the state 15 months to start enforcement.

 EPA’s new rules apply to nutrient pollution, which consists of compounds of nitrogen and phosphorus that come from sewage treatment, lawn fertilizer, dairy farms, factories and many more sources.

 Industry and agriculture have decried the EPA’s move as a imposing a huge financial burden for a pollution-control approach based on faulty science. Some environmentalists think industry and farmers face very little challenge from new rules that include big loopholes.

 In announcing the new rules, EPA’s regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the high cost of water pollution already is being paid by homeowners who live next to waterfronts, tourism businesses that depend on healthy aquatic environments and municipal utilities that must make costly investments to treat drinking water.
–The Orlando Sentinel

 Army Corps to study Asian carp threat 
The vast number of twisting rivers, canals and backwater channels funneling into the Great Lakes present a daunting challenge for those safeguarding the lakes from dangerous invasive fish, mollusks and algae.

Though a federal judge soon will decide whether to close Chicago-area shipping locks to block the movement of Asian carp, most on both sides of the contentious debate say sealing locks may disrupt shipping routes but are unlikely to stop the carp’s northward migration.

There are simply too many alternative pathways for Asian carp and other invasive species to enter the Great Lakes, officials say, putting pressure on government officials, scientists and environmental advocates to come up with a solution.

The Army Corps of Engineers is embarking on an exhaustive, multiyear study of the Great Lakes water basin to find out how many alternative pathways exist and to better understand the depth of the invasive species problem threatening the world’s largest freshwater body of lakes.
–The Chicago Tribune

 DNR slowly removing Minnesota dams
Back in the early 1900s, Minnesotans built a lot of dams — to run sawmills, make electricity, create lakes and try to control flooding.

 As a result, Minnesota’s rivers and streams have a lot of small dams on them. At last count, there were 1,300 — many of them aging, unsafe and unnecessary.

 Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources are using a 25-year-old state program to remove old dams and restore the natural flows of rivers, a process that can lead to increased numbers of fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 China eyes huge seawater pipeline
Local officials in China’s arid northwest have launched a new push for a vast water-diversion project that would pump raw sea water thousands of miles from the coast to the deserts of Xinjiang through a pipeline made of plastic and fiberglass.

The idea is to desalinate some of the seawater, but to use the rest to fill Xinjiang’s dried-up salt lakes and desert basins in the hope that it will evaporate and encourage rainfall over drought-stricken areas of northern and northwestern China.

Local government officials and water experts held a conference in Xinjiang on Friday to give new impetus to the proposal under which seawater would be pumped across four mountain ranges, and up to a height of more than 1,280 metres, on its way from the Bohai Sea off the coast of northeast China via Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Comment sought on Keewatin taconite plan
A Final Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared for a proposed taconite mine expansion project near Keewatin. The FEIS was prepared jointly by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The impact statement is available for public review and comment until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 20.

The project, proposed by U. S. Steel Corp., would increase the production of taconite pellets by expanding the existing mine and restarting an idle production line. The proposed project is estimated to begin in 2012 or 2013.

 “The FEIS describes potential environmental, social and economic effects stemming from the proposed project and alternatives,” said Erik Carlson, DNR principal planner who is coordinating the review project. “We are seeking public comment on the adequacy of the information contained in the document.” 

The proposed project would increase Keetac’s annual taconite pellet production output by 3.6 million tons to a total output of 9.6 million tons per year. Iron ore pellets would then be transported to steel production facilities. 

To view the documents, click here. To submit comments, click here.
–DNR News Release

 39% of large world businesses face water problems
At least one in five of the companies using the largest amounts of water in the world is already experiencing damage to their business from drought and other shortages, flooding, and rising prices.

 The wide scope of commercial problems posed by growing pressure on global water supplies and changing weather patterns is revealed by a survey of the 302 biggest companies in the most water-intensive sectors, across 25 countries.

 The study was commissioned by the increasingly influential Carbon Disclosure Project, which conducts an annual study of what companies are doing to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of investors holding US$16trillion (£9.9tr) of assets.

 About half the companies responded to the water survey, of whom 39% said they were already experiencing “detrimental impacts”. In answer to a separate question, about half said the risks to their businesses were “current or near term” – in the next one to five years – a sample likely to have significant crossover with those already reporting problems.
–The Guardian