$26 million available to retire flood-prone land

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.

$26 million available for flood-prevention easements 
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service announced that $26 million is available to retire marginal or damaged cropland in southern Minnesota that is frequently or occasionally flooded.

 The highest priority sites will result in restoration of wetlands and grasslands through the RIM-WRP partnership. Most of the money will be focused in floodplain areas in the 29 counties that sustained damages as identified in the federal disaster declaration, resulting from record rainfalls on Sept. 22-23, 2010.

 The total amount includes $10 million in state dollars appropriated for flood recovery in the 2010 special legislative session, which is expected to leverage $16 million in federal dollars.

 “The primary goal of these state and federal dollars is to provide additional flood relief and protection on privately owned lands adjacent to water bodies,” said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director. “But the restored floodplains and grasslands will also provide multiple benefits for wildlife habitat and water quality.”

 Counties where the money is available are:  Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Jackson, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Olmsted, Pipestone, Redwood, Rice, Rock, Sibley, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan, Winona, Yellow Medicine.

 RIM-WRP is a local-state-federal partnership that combines the state’s Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve conservation easement program with the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program.
–BWSR-NRCS  News Release

California water official invokes ‘reasonable’ use
A newly appointed Delta water overseer wants to use the state constitution to enforce farm water conservation, contending that even small improvements could result in big savings.

 Craig Wilson is California’s first Delta watermaster, a position created by sweeping water reforms lawmakers passed at the end of 2009.

 In his first report to regulators, Wilson will argue  that farmers who use water inefficiently are violating the constitution’s requirement that its use be “reasonable.”

 His recommendations, if adopted, would mark the first time the doctrine has been applied so broadly.
–The Contra Costa Times

 Amendment’s sales tax funds environmental work
In the two years since Minnesota voters amended the state Constitution to dedicate millions to the environment and arts, following the money trail has been tough.

 Almost $457 million in Legacy Amendment funding has been sent to Minnesota groups and agencies even while the state tackles its $6.25 billion budget shortfall. But a state-run website to help citizens follow the money is at least two months behind schedule, and not all of the money has been distributed.

 Aware that legislators might be tempted to hijack Legacy funds to help with the budget, outdoors and arts groups are voicing concerns about the future even as they complete reports about how Legacy money has been spent so far, and prepare recommendations for the next round of grants.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill panel calls for sweeping regulation
The presidential panel investigating the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico recommended that Congress approve substantial new spending and sweeping new regulations for offshore oil operations at a time when the appetite for both is low.

Releasing its final report, the commission found that the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill arose from a preventable series of corporate and regulatory failures. It warned that unless industry practices and government regulation improved, another such accident was inevitable.

 “If dramatic steps are not taken,” said Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida and a co-chairman of the commission, “I’m afraid at some point in the coming years another failure will occur, and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did the industry allow this to happen again.”
–The New York Times

 EPA halts mountain-top mine project
The Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop-removal coal mining projects, saying the mine would have done unacceptable damage to rivers, wildlife and communities in West Virginia.

Arch Coal’s proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County has been the subject of controversy since the Bush administration approved its construction in 2007, issuing a permit required under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists and local residents strongly opposed the sprawling project, and the Obama administration moved last year to rescind the permit, prompting lawsuits by West Virginia and the coal company.

 The agency’s action is certain to provoke an outcry from West Virginia politicians, the coal industry and other businesses that have raised objections to what they consider economically damaging regulatory overreach by the E.P.A.

The coal mining project would have involved dynamiting the tops off mountains over an area of 2,278 acres to get at the rich coal deposits beneath.
–The New York Times

Report: Coon Rapids dam could halt Asian carp
A $16 million upgrade could turn the 97-year-old Coon Rapids Dam into an effective barrier against Asian carp migrating up the Mississippi River, a consultant reported.

 A dam with new gates, a repaired underwater apron and revised operating rules to keep upstream water at summer levels year-round could make the dam 99 to 100 percent effective at stopping the carp from jumping upriver to Minnesota’s prime game fish lakes, said Martin Weber, principal water resources engineer for Stanley Consultants.

 Weber reported his findings to the Coon Rapids Dam Commission, a panel of public officials and citizens established by the Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

Great Lakes research looks beyond Asian carp
While public attention has been riveted on the Asian carp’s progress toward Lake Michigan, scientists are mapping out just what the next invasion might be and what, if anything, could be done to stop it.

A team of university and government researchers has identified 75 species that could find their way into the Great Lakes basin over time. Some of them are bad actors.

The next invasion could arrive in the murky ballast waters of ocean-going ships. It could come via the aquarium trade, sold at a pet store and later released. The next invader, experts say, could arrive in a truck selling bait, fish or water lilies for country ponds or urban water gardens. It could even arrive as live food at market.
–The Grand Rapids Press

New Hampshire not running out of water, after all
When state and federal officials recently looked at the history of water levels in New Hampshire wells, they found what appeared to be an alarming problem: In 2006, water in the average drilled well was 13 feet lower than it had been in 1984.

 That’s a decline of about 7 inches a year, measured in almost 60,000 wells found in every part of the state.  This leads to an obvious conclusion: New Hampshire is draining its underground aquifers dry.

 Obvious, but wrong.

 “The water table isn’t getting lower and lower … despite how that seems,” said Brandon Kernen, of the state Department of Environmental Studies, who co-authored a report titled “Preliminary Assessment of Trends in Static Water Levels in Bedrock Wells in New Hampshire, 1984 to 2007.”
–The Nashua Telegraph

L.A. meets renewable energy goal
The City of Los Angeles had 20 percent of its power supplied via renewable energy resources in 2010, according to a release from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Hitting the mark fulfilled a promise made by Villaraigosa in 2005 to quadruple the amount of power coming from renewable sources.

 The biggest contributor has been the Pine Tree Wind Power Plant in the Tehachapi Mountains, which contributed half of the energy in the renewable segment. Other renewable sources included small hydro-electric, geothermal/biofuels and solar.
–Los Angeles Business

Schad named deputy DNR commissioner 
A veteran natural resource professional has been promoted to deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources by new DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Dave Schad, 53, has served in the DNR since his student worker days in 1981, most recently as director of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Division. Previously he was the agency’s Wildlife Section chief; he has also served as wildlife operations manager, regional wildlife manager, area wildlife supervisor, and statewide wetland wildlife coordinator and statewide forest wildlife program coordinator.

USGS may study White Bear Lake water levels
A detailed study of White Bear Lake water levels has landed federal money and officials are now working to finalize a study plan and secure local matching funds.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) officials will conduct a meeting next month to discuss plans for a study characterizing groundwater and surface water interactions in White Bear Lake. The study is estimated to cost approximately $200,000, with the federal government paying half and local public and private entities providing a match.

The February meeting will involve state, county and local government officials, representatives from local water governing boards, business leaders, and representatives from private associations and foundations. The various entities, called Groundwater and Surface Water Interaction Partners, will be asked to collectively supply around $100,000 and provide information gathering assistance.
–Vadnais Heights Press

 USGS weighs in on red-winged blackbirds’ deaths
Large wildlife die-off events are fairly common, though they should never be ignored, according to the U.S. Geological Survey scientists whose preliminary tests showed that the bird deaths in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve and those in Louisiana were caused by impact trauma.

Preliminary findings from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center’s Arkansas bird analyses suggest that the birds died from impact trauma, and these findings are consistent with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s statement.

The State concluded that such trauma was probably a result of the birds being startled by loud noises on the night of Dec. 31, arousing them and causing them to fly into objects such as houses or trees. Scientists at the USGS NWHC performed necropsies—the animal version of an autopsy—on the birds and found internal hemorrhaging, while the pesticide tests they conducted were negative.

In 2010, the USGS NWHC documented eight die-off events of 1,000 or more birds. The causes: starvation, avian cholera, Newcastle disease and parasites. Such records show that, while the causes of death may vary, events like the red-winged blackbird die-off in Beebe, Ark., and the smaller one near Baton Rouge, La., are more common than people may realize.
–USGS News Release