Polls, wild rice, bats and fish kills

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.

Economy outranks environment in poll
What is more important to you: The economy or the environment?

 I you are reading this blog, you may choose the environment. But a recent Gallup poll showed most Americans chose economic development.

 Fifty-four percent of Americans gave a higher priority to economic growth than to protecting the environment, according to results of the poll. Thirty-six percent attached more priority to environmental protection.

 Since Gallup started asking the economy vs. environment question in 1984, Americans have generally favored the environment.

 The poll was conducted in early March, before an earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused the failure of several nuclear reactors.

 In a 2000 Gallup survey, Americans favored the environment over the economy, 67 percent to 28 percent.
–Gallup Inc.

Bill would change wild rice rules 
A bill that would water down Minnesota’s wild rice pollution rules passed the House and Senate in a vote that reflects a fundamental shift in environmental philosophy at a Legislature now controlled by Republicans.

The zeal to change the wild rice water quality standard is driven in part by the allure of a resurgence of Minnesota’s mining industry on the Iron Range. Supporters say the current standard imposes a heavy burden on business, and they are unwilling to wait for ongoing research to provide better guidance.

“It does not make sense for major expenditures of capital to be made to comply with a standard that we know is subject to change in the near term,” said Mike Robertson, an environmental consultant for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

But environmentalists charge that the bill, which dictates a fivefold increase in sulfate limits for wild rice, is just one example of a Republican preference for business interests over both clean water and environmental science.
–The Star Tribune

 Legacy $$ loom large in deficit debate
In what has become a biennial ritual of the deficit years, lawmakers are running their fingers through every pot of dedicated state money within reach as they labor to erase a multibillion-dollar deficit. But in 2011, most of the easy pickings have long since been taken – starting with $1 billion in tobacco lawsuit proceeds appropriated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature to help with a $4.3 billion deficit in 2003 – and legislators have already laid claim to roughly half of the $108 million in one of the few sizable dedicated funds still left intact, the Iron Range-specific Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund.

 But the most coveted, and most closely guarded, stash of all is the roughly $540 million in revenue from the 2008 Legacy sales tax amendment. Arts and environment advocates are already crying foul over lawmakers’ efforts to skirt the constitutional strictures governing Legacy spending.

 “It looks like there’s huge potential to do that, and I cannot see how you can legitimately spend the Legacy money in the way it has been proposed,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, the environment minority lead on the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–Politics in Minnesota

Virus blamed for Milwaukee fish kill 
A massive fish kill last month in the Milwaukee harbor has been linked to a deadly fish virus that was first discovered in Lake Michigan in 2007.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports it is the first time the disease known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been found in Lake Michigan waters since 2008.

VHS is sometimes referred to as a fish-specific version of the deadly Ebola. It is harmless to humans, but can affect several dozen fish species, including popular sport and commercial fish such as perch, trout and whitefish.

The virus targeted thousands of gizzard shad in last month’s fish kill. It’s the first time that species has tested positive for VHS in Wisconsin waters, according to the DNR. 

Nobody knows how the virus got into the Great Lakes, but a likely explanation is it was carried in by oceangoing freighters.
–The Milwaukee  Journal  Sentinel

 Wax cylinders clean groundwater
An experiment underway in a small Nebraska town may hold the answer to a common problem associated with industry — groundwater contamination.

 If the results are as successful as preliminary reports indicate, then researchers will have found a vastly cheaper and easier method that could then be applied to a wider range of contaminates found in the nation’s water supply.

 “We’re always looking for new, better ways to handle the contamination and obviously the cheaper the better, as long as it can be effectively and safely done,” said Ken Rapplean a project manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .

An estimated 15,000 sites across the country leach toxic chlorinated solvents into groundwater — anywhere an old landfill, dry cleaning facility or military installation might be found. Among the most common is a solvent typically used as a degreaser and metal parts cleaner, trichloroethylene or TCE.
–ABC News 

Notre Dame prof leads fight against invasives
When the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decided in March to ban the import and transport of bighead carp — one of the infamous Asian carp — under a century-old law called the Lacey Act, David Lodge had one reaction.  “It’s about time,” he said.

 It figures that Mr. Lodge, 54, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, would have a decided opinion. He has spent much of his career predicting which foreign species could harm the Great Lakes. And in the decades since Asian carp escaped Southern fish farms and began marauding up the Mississippi River, Mr. Lodge, a nationally known expert on invasives,  has become nearly as famous in some circles as the voracious fish.  

He has also been an advocate of using the Lacey Act to block Asian carp and other invasive species. Though the act is the sole federal defense against the importing of potentially devastating plants and animals, it covers only 20 groups of organisms. As with the carp, most were added to the list long after they became environmental hazards.
–Chicago News Cooperative

 Ground Water Association to meet
Sustainable water use will be the theme of the Minnesota Ground Water Association’s spring conference on May 4.

 Speakers include:  state Rep. Paul Torkelson, speaking about the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment;  Princesa VanBuren Hansen, speaking on the Environmental Quality Board’s 2010 Minnesota Water Plan; and Deborah Swackhamer, speaking on the 25-year water sustainability plan fo the state that was drafted by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center. 

Other speakers include: Jeanette Leete, speaking on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ process for defining groundwater management areas; and Lanya Ross, describing the Metropolitan Council’s water supply planning for the Twin Cities. 

The conference will be on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. For information and to register, go to www.mgwa.org.

 Members sought for Lake Superior council
The Governor’s Council on Minnesota’s Coastal Program, or Coastal Council for short, is seeking applications by April 15 for a number vacancies. There is a particular need for applications from people who live in Cook, Carlton and Lake counties. 


The Coastal Council is an integral element of Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program. As part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Ecological and Water Resources Division, the program mission is to preserve, protect, enhance and restore coastal resources for present and future generations. The program provides technical and financial assistance for local communities.

 The council is made up of 15 Governor-appointed individuals who have a passion for Lake Superior and the desire to make a difference. Members must have some knowledge and interest in Lake Superior.

 Experience reviewing grant applications is helpful, but not required. Council members are not compensated, but receive travel reimbursement and training. The time commitment is approximately 60 – 70 hours per year. Meetings are held at various locations along the North Shore including Duluth, Two Harbors and Grand Marais.

 For instruction on how to apply to the Coastal Council, contact Lisa Angelos, Coastal Program manager at 218-834-1443.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

 Alexandria-area fish kill reported
Around 300 dead fish were found in Lake Agnes and Lake Henry in open water areas after ice had melted. But both residents and experts said they’re not sure why.

 “All winter long, I’ve been fishing the lake (Henry), and I ran into a situation where we had a four to six foot column of fish, and all of the sudden, they disappeared. I could not find a fish on the lake,” Lake Henry resident and fisherman Rick Colden said.   

Colden isn’t the only one who’s had a hard time on the lakes, as more than 2,000 anglers failed to catch a fish at a tournament on the adjoining Lake Agnes on Feb. 12.

 But the recent evidence of fish kill may be to blame.

 “A lot of game fishes; walleye, bass, bluegill, some crappie, (were found dead). So certainly a concern,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor Dean Beck said.

 Research: Bats are worth billions
Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the most overlooked economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, according to an analysis published in this week’s Science magazine Policy Forum. 

“People often ask why we should care about bats,” said Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey research scientist and one of the study’s authors. “This analysis suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests  —  these bats deserve help.” 

The value of the pest-control services to agriculture provided by bats in the U.S. alone range from a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion a year, estimated the study’s authors, scientists from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), USGS, University of Tennessee and Boston University.  They also warned that noticeable economic losses to North American agriculture could occur in the next 4 to 5 years as a result of emerging threats to bat populations. 
–USGS News Release