Water and the environment: Week of Jan. 23

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 examines  Legacy Amendment spending
Money raised through Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment has been put to work quickly and generally has been spent well, according to a report.

 But there is still room for improvement, according to the analysis by Conservation Minnesota.

 The non-profit watchdog group, which reviews Legacy spending every year, said money is going to good uses, but it questioned some decisions and promised to monitor them closely in the future.

 Conservation Minnesota said several projects last year raised alarms.

 For example, it said then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a pair of parks and trails bonding projects that were then funded by Legacy money. In addition, the Legislature borrowed money from two environmental cleanup funds to help solve budget problems, and promised to repay the amounts in a couple of years.

 Language in the 2008 amendment said Legacy money should not be used to replace existing state spending.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 MCEA analysis questions water-quality grants
Minnesota is spending clean-water funds from the 2008 Legacy Amendment without clear evidence that the money will make the most dramatic improvements in water quality, according to an analysis released by a nonprofit environmental group.

It’s one of several reports being prepared by environmental groups who have adopted a watchdog role over the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be provided by the 25-year sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

The latest report says the state Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), which funds projects primarily related to agricultural pollution, spent $16.8 million on 123 projects between 2007 and 2010.

But many of the projects – which ran the gamut from school rain gardens to livestock feedlot clean-ups – did not address the source of pollution that was identified in the grant application or explain how the impact would be measured.

For example, a $40,000 project to install rain gardens at a school in Medford, Minn., said it would address high fecal bacteria counts in the nearby Straight River. Michael Schmidt of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which produced the analysis, said most fecal bacteria in rivers comes from agricultural feedlots, not school kids.
–The Star Tribune

 MPCA takes comment on pesticide permitting
Public comments are now being accepted for a proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)/State Disposal System (SDS) Pesticide General Permit.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will accept comments through Feb. 17, 2011.

In 2009, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that NPDES permits were required for all biological and chemical pesticide applications that leave a residue in water when such applications are made in or over, including near, waters of the United States.

In accordance with that federal ruling, the MPCA drafted a NPDES/SDS Pesticide General Permit covering anyone who discharges a pesticide to a water of the state under one of the following pesticide use patterns:

  • Mosquito and Other Flying Insect Pest Control,
  • Forest Canopy Pest Control,
  • Aquatic Nuisance Animal Pest Control, and 
  • Vegetative Pests and Algae Control.

A draft permit is available for review on line at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/news/data/index.cfm?PN=1
–MPCA News Release 

700 water mains break daily in US
Anita Kramer had no idea that a 72-inch water main in her Maryland neighborhood was a ticking time bomb that was about to flood her home and ruin many of her most cherished possessions.

In the wake of the water main break, Kramer’s basement kitchen was a mess. Appliances were covered in dirt, as was the floor. Dark water and mold stains marked the baseboards and walls.

“It’s not the money value of what you lost,” she said about the pipe burst. “You put your heart into doing something … the memories you lose — it was a hard experience.”

Kramer’s disaster was just one of an average 700 water main breaks nationwide that experts say occur each day. They warn that this is the latest sign of an aging water delivery infrastructure that results in property loss, inconvenience, and threats to public health.

 The nation’s drinking water system is so troubled, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a grade of D minus, in its 2009 Report Card of America’s Infrastructure.

 Mississippi corridor rules may be stalled
DNA year of work-group sessions, drafts, redrafts and heated debate on regulating development along the Mississippi River may have been for naught. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, ordered by the Legislature to establish new rules for a 72-mile stretch of the river, missed a key deadline, meaning its authority to make the rules has expired.

Restarting the process would require the Legislature to grant the DNR more time, which some say is highly unlikely. Moreover, legislation was introduced last week to eliminate the rulemaking process altogether. 

The area in question, the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area, stretches from the Anoka County city of Ramsey to southeastern Dakota County. The rules, intended to standardize what is now a mishmash of local regulations, would dictate how tall buildings can be in the corridor and how near to the top of a bluff a structure could be built, for instance.
–The Star Tribune

Water demands, anti-tax vows collide in California 
Some of the farmers here in the rural Central Valley have been seeking a new tax levy for their water system. Dwindling groundwater, they say, is endangering the water supply. 

“None of us likes to pay taxes. But this is our water,” said Tom Hoffman, a pro-tax farmer who has 140 acres of wine grapes here and until recently sat on the local water board. 

But voters here already have rejected the proposed levy, and last fall elected a firmly antitax group of members to the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District board. “No new taxes,” said Hugh Scanlon, a newly elected Republican member. That “is the pledge I made to the people.” 

The post-election dispute in North San Joaquin is part of a debate being played out in communities nationwide, as politicians elected in last fall’s elections grapple with spending requests by local constituents. 

Without the levy, and the groundwater-recharge system it would fund, local water officials say, wells will eventually dry up and become contaminated with salt water from the nearby San Francisco Bay Delta.
–The Wall Street Journal

 Minnehaha Creek district eyes anti-invasives plan
A novel proposal to battle the spread of damaging water plants and animals would require all boats to display a red or green sticker on the lakes and streams in the watershed district that includes popular Lake Minnetonka.

 The gist is that all boats on Lake Minnetonka, which has been infested by zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive species, would be required to display red permit stickers.

Boats on clean lakes within the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District would display green stickers. 

Any boat with the wrong color sticker for the lake it’s on, or without a sticker at all, would stand out, making it easier for people to help police spot and ticket offenders. 

The Watershed District, which is known for flood control and clean water efforts, says it feels called to wade into the battle against aquatic invasive species because the state is not doing enough to stop their spread.
–The Star Tribune

 Oklahoma research reduces salt use on bridge
The salt and sand trucks are out ready to treat bridges when the snow and ice comes, but what if bridges had something inside them to prevent them from freezing?

 There is technology that does that.

Scientists have tried hot water and electric heat to make bridges less likely to freeze. Oklahoma State proved several years ago there is a system that works.

 Jeff Spitler and his colleagues at Oklahoma State University built a geothermal “smart bridge” back in 2001. It melts snow and ice with hot water that’s pumped through the bridge in the summer.

 “You know how hot concrete gets in Oklahoma gets in the summer, I don’t know if you can really fry an egg on it, but it seems like it. And we actually circulate fluid in these tubes in the bridge deck down into the ground,” Spitler said.

 The water is stored deep underground and pumped back out in the winter.

Solar-powered pavement could melt ice, snow
The mayors of New York and Atlanta, Georgia, suffered stinging criticism for their handling of recent winter storms, but in the near future, technology could clear city streets of ice and snow — by simply melting it away.

 America’s harsh winters cost the nation’s economy billions of dollars each year in snow removal equipment, weather damage to streets and vehicles, extra days of school and revenue lost to closed businesses.

 Scott Brusaw, a 53-year-old electrical engineer in tiny Sagle, Idaho, thinks he has a solution. So far, he’s generated interest from the federal government and General Electric in his idea for a solar-powered roadway made from super-strong glass, instead of conventional asphalt or concrete.

 Lake Powel inspections halt zebra mussels
As the battle cry mounts to stop the spread of zebra mussels in Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources would do well to check out places where they have been stopped.

One such place is Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest man-made reservoir that straddles Utah and Arizona.

At full pool, Lake Powell is 186 miles long and has 1,960 miles of shoreline. But unlike Lake Mille Lacs or Lake Minnetonka, the reservoir on the Colorado River has only five major marinas where the bulk of boaters access the lake.

 Nonetheless, Lake Powell has remained free of zebra and quagga mussels (the latter very similar to zebra mussels) because of an aggressive and mandatory boat inspection program, the use of boat decontamination stations and very stiff fines.

 Lake Powell was predicted early on to become the first major western reservoir to get the nasty mussels. It has remained mussel-free, while its neighbor to the south, Lake Mead, has had them since 2005.

 “Our program has been successful. We have not found any mussels, and Lake Powell is a huge, huge reservoir,” said Mark Anderson, aquatic ecologist for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The National Park Service oversees the national recreation area, which encircles Lake Powell and regulates it.

 Anderson said Glen Canyon staff inspected 100,000 boats last year before they launched on Lake Powell. A lesser number of “high-risk” boats were required to undergo decontamination, and 14 were found to have zebra mussels.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 States continue Asian carp suit
The Michigan attorney general who sparked the legal fight to force the federal government to take dramatic steps to protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion has left office, but a bitter regional fight that has pitted Illinois against a coalition of neighboring states will drag on.

 New Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced he has no plans to abandon the lawsuit initiated by his predecessor and fellow Republican Mike Cox that pushes for an emergency closure of two Chicago navigation locks. The lawsuit, backed by Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, also seeks to re-establish the natural separation between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin that the Chicago canal system destroyed over a century ago.

 The five states remain undaunted, despite the political wave that washed across the region in the midterm elections, a federal judge’s ruling in December against an emergency lock closure and the fact that Cox is no longer steering the fight.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin chef plans Asian carp entrees
Chef Jimmy Wade isn’t transforming his Heaven City Restaurant near Mukwonago into a house of flying carp just yet.

 But the adventurous chef, who hosts twice-a-year wild game dinners, is planning an “invasivore” dinner menu in February as part of his Tapas Tuesday series.

 On the menu: Carp Cakes, Smoked Carp Steak and Carp Napoleon, featuring a few invasive Asian carp species from the Illinois River that threaten to breach the Great Lakes.

 “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.” That’s the mantra of an emerging group of environmentally conscious foodies dubbed “invasivores” in a recent New York Times story. Wade hopes to entice them to his restaurant with surprisingly tasty invasive species entrées. He’d also be happy just to attract a crowd of adventurous diners.

 “Lots of people will try anything once,” said Wade.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wadena County feedlot faces $30,000 penalty
Dhs Farms and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reached an agreement that required the facility to pay $30,000 for alleged feedlot violations.  The feedlot, owned by David Sabin and Marci Burkel, is located east of Menahga, in northern Wadena County’s Shell River Township. 

According to MPCA and Wadena County feedlot staff inspection reports for 2009 and 2010, the feedlot was permitted to hold a maximum of 300 head of feeder cattle, but had more than 1,700 head housed there during two inspections that took place nearly a year apart.  When a feedlot exceeds 1,000 head of cattle, it is required to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit.  Dhs Farms failed to obtain the NPDES permit, and failed to notify local zoning authorities of its expansion.

 The facility also allowed manure and manure-contaminated runoff to discharge into area waters, failed to notify the MPCA of the discharges, and failed to keep records on file of manure transfers for land application.

 In addition to paying the $30,000 civil penalty, Dhs Farms is completing a series of corrective actions.
–MPCA News Release