Merriam warns of environmental retreat

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.

Gene Merriam criticizes retreat on the environment
Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam writes that lawmakers, both in the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress,  increasingly are retreating from leadership on the environment.  He warns that Minnesota is in danger of “joining other states in a race to the bottom – in the pollution we accept and in the scientific evidence we ignore.”

 Merriam’s column was published in Freshwater’s April Facets newsletter and re-printed on the Minnpost web site. Read it either place. 

The newsletter also has articles on Craig A. Cox’s prescription for “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production” and a q-and-a interview with Pamela Shubat, director of the Minnesota Health Department’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.  

freshwater party and fund-raiser set April 21 Support Freshwater; come to a party
The Freshwater Society will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser April 21 in Excelsior. 

The event is keyed to two signs of spring:  Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka and the frequent stop-overs of migrating loons on the lake.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.,  will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, a raffle and silent auction, and presentations on loons and ice-out on the lake. If you think you are up to it, join the loon-calling contest.

 Visit the Freshwater web site for information and registration

Open house on south metro Mississippi plan set
A public open house on a draft clean-up plan for the Mississippi River in the south metro area will be held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May  4.

The open house will be at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave., St. Paul.

 The open house is sponsored by the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi National River &  Recreation Area and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River in St. Paul to Red Wing, currently fails to meet basic health standards because of excess sediment in the water.

 People attending the open house attendees will learn about a Total Maximum Daily Load plan prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that spells out maximum levels of pollution that the river can accept and still offer a clean and healthy environment for humans, animals, fish and plants.

At the open house, there will be two presentations on the plan – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – and each will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of water quality and restoration experts.

 To learn more about the South Metro Mississippi Turbidity TMDL, visit the MPCA’s Mississippi River TMDL web page.  For more information about the open house, contact  Trevor Russell at 651-222-2193 x18 or Lark Weller at 651-290-3030 x304.

 Sigurd Olson lectures scheduled
Amy Vedder, a renowned gorilla researcher and conservationist, will deliver three public lectures – in St. Paul, Duluth and Ely – on April 19 and 20 in the 2011 Sigurd Olson Lecture Series. The series is sponsored by Vermilion Community College and the Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness.

 Vedder, the senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, is the author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas, which describes her effort to study and protect mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 The title of her lecture is “From Gorillas to Grizzlies: A Conservation Journey.” The lectures will be:

  •   At  3 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, in Room 203 of Green Hall on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
  • At noon on Wednesday, April 20, in the fourth-floor library rotunda at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
  • At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the auditorium of Vermilion Community College.

 $103 million Texas groundwater deal set
A West Texas tycoon who shopped valuable water across the state for more than a decade has settled for selling to his neighbor.

 Lubbock and 10 Panhandle cities have a purchase agreement for thousands of acres of water rights owned by famed corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, potentially solidifying the group as the state’s largest holder of groundwater rights and closing a combative and fascinating chapter in water marketing in Texas.

 The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority confirmed the purchase of water rights beneath 211,000 acres in seven counties north of Amarillo for $103 million, increasing its groundwater holdings by 80 percent and an estimated 4 trillion gallons. The sale is expected to close in July or August, based on a statement from the authority.
–The Lubbock  Avalanche-Journal

 Electric carp barrier activated  near Chicago
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it activated a new electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville designed to keep Asian carp from migrating to Lake Michigan. 

It was completed a year ahead of schedule, the corps said.

Because of the electric discharge, the corps warned boaters to use “extreme caution” while traveling between river mile markers 296.1 and 296.7. It is dangerous to enter the water or place hands or feet in the water for any reason, the agency said.

Last month, federal officials said that lab testing found the Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric dispersal barriers were effective for fish 5.4 inches or longer. 

Higher electric power levels might be needed to immobilize small Asian carp about 2 to 3 inches long, they said. The smaller fish are not believed to be close to the barriers, which are near Lockport.

 Chicago urges quick action on Asian carp
Chicago is leaning on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track an ongoing study to protect Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline – and the rest of the Great Lakes – from an Asian carp invasion.

 “The proposed timeline for the study is too long,” Chicago environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna wrote to the Army Corps on March 25. “The threat of Asian carp has been known for more than a decade. It is not acceptable to wait another five years for solutions. We urge the Corps to speed up this timeline to every extent possible.”

 It is an ironic twist of history, considering that Chicago sparked the problem over 111 years ago when it obliterated the natural barrier between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan by constructing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

 The canal remains the linchpin in the Windy City’s giant plumbing system that flushes waste away from its Lake Michigan drinking water intake pipes, down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. The canal, which reversed the flow of the Chicago River so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it, was built to send about 6 billion gallons of Lake Michigan water per day into the Mississippi basin, though a Supreme Court ruling has capped that amount at about 2 billion gallons per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Can and bottle deposit bill proposed
When it comes to recycling bottles and cans, Minnesota pales in comparison with Iowa.

Here, 35 percent of them are recycled; the rest are lost or tossed. But south of the border, where a beverage container deposit law is in place, 86 percent, or 1.65 billion every year, are recycled.

 The reason for the difference?  “The answer is the deposit,” said Minnesota Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.  “People don’t throw away money.”

 Minnesota would adopt a similar approach under a bill she and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, plan to introduce. Their proposal would attach a 10-cent deposit on most bottles and cans containing beverages such as soft drinks and beer. Consumers would get their money back when they turn in the empty containers.

 By putting value on bottles and cans, people would be much more likely to return them, keeping them out of ditches or other parts of the waste stream, Hortman said.

And because there always would be fewer containers returned than bought, there would be unclaimed refunds that the state could use to offset budget problems, she said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin gov backs off on phosphorus rule repeal
Gov. Scott Walker has apparently backed off his plan to repeal a rule passed last year that sets limits in Wisconsin lakes and streams for phosphorus, a nutrient from fertilizers which causes weed and algae growth.

 Instead, Walker has proposed that the new rule not be put in place for two years, according to Cathy Stepp, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. Stepp testified on the proposal, and other conservation-related items in the budget, before the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

 Stepp said municipal officials and others affected by the rule told the agency that implementing the tougher statewide standard would be too expensive during this difficult economic period. Some communities estimated they would have to raise sewage treatment rates by as much as $900 per customer per year.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Minnesota DNR seeks tougher inspections for invasives
The Legislature is poised to give the Department of Natural Resources new authority to require boat inspections and decontamination to slow the spread of zebra mussels.

And that means Minnesotans could see some changes at boat landings this summer when they go out to visit their favorite lakes.

But there is disagreement about how effective these efforts could be.

 Zebra mussels hitchhike from lake to lake on boats and trailers. They can clog water intakes and boat motors, leave sharp shells on beaches, and, in high numbers, they can alter the food chain.

Minnesota now has 19 lakes and four rivers infested with zebra mussels — including Mille Lacs Lake, the state’s best-known walleye fishery, and popular Lake Minnetonka.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Climate change threatens extinctions
Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

 For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

The Berkeley scientists warn that their new study may actually grossly underestimate how many species could disappear. So far, humans have pushed species toward extinctions through means like hunting, overfishing and deforestation. Global warming, on the other hand, is only starting to make itself felt in l the natural world. Many scientists expect that as the planet’s temperature rises,  global warming could add even more devastation. “The current rate and magnitude of climate change are faster and more severe than many species have experienced in their evolutionary history,” said Anthony Barnosky, the lead author of the Nature study.
–The New York Times 

 Texas clean-air advocate wins $150,000 Goldman award
They call Port Arthur gasoline alley, cancer alley, and the armpit of Texas. For most of his life, Hilton Kelley has called it home.

 The city has had the same distinctive odor since he was a boy, Kelley said. Adults jokingly called it the smell of money, because the nearby oil refineries and petrochemical plants did most of the hiring. But after the cancer rate grew, the childhood asthma rate rose and the population plummeted, Kelley, now 50, stopped laughing.

 Kelley’s decade-long fight to lower the city’s air pollution earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for the North America category, being awarded Monday in San Francisco.

The annual prize and a $150,000 stipend is routinely awarded to six grass-roots environmentalists from different parts of the world. Since the award was established in 1990, a total of $13.2 million has been awarded to 139 recipients from 79 countries, as of 2010, according to a spokeswoman.
–The Washington Post

 Migrant’s genes transformed Isle Royale wolves
In Ontario, in the winter of 1997, a particularly virile male wolf stepped onto the ice of Lake Superior and headed toward Isle Royale, an island about 15 miles offshore. There he radically changed the genetic makeup of an isolated group of wolves that had lived there since the late 1940s.

 Researchers, who for many years have been observing the Isle Royale packs and the moose they feed on, did not realize at first that he was an immigrant, but soon his appearance and behavior became impossible to ignore.

He was larger than most of the Isle Royale wolves, and was so strongly territorial that he completely displaced one of the four packs, driving it to extinction within two years of his arrival. His own pack grew to 10 wolves, the largest seen on the island in almost 20 years. As he aged, his fur grew paler, almost white, a phenomenon known in other wolves but never before seen in the Isle Royale animals.
–The New York Times

 California board eyes groundwater clean-up
Farmers in California’s agricultural heartland, which also is home to some of America’s most contaminated aquifers, may soon have to start monitoring and cleaning up groundwater.

But the proposal being considered by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Rancho Cordova has generated frustration on all sides.

Farmers say the new regulations affecting 35,000 famers and 7 million acres of irrigated land are an expensive, bureaucratic burden. And environmental groups say the rules are not strong enough to protect drinking water from the threat of fertilizers and other agricultural runoff.

The new long-term rules would cover not only ground water but also surface water, which has been regulated on an interim basis since 2003.

University and local government studies have found that nitrate levels harmful to human health have increased dramatically in drinking water supplies in past decades. A report last month by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute concluded more than 1 million San Joaquin Valley residents—a third of the Valley’s population—are exposed to drinking water tainted with fertilizer and other toxins.
–The Associated Press

 Advocacy group releases report on carcinogen
U.S. water utilities have known about the prevalence of a likely carcinogen in water sources for seven years and have failed to share that information with the public, according to an advocacy group, which released a 2004 industry study of hexavalent chromium.

The American Water Works Association Research Foundation study focused on hexavalent chromium in groundwater sources nationwide. The AWWA report was obtained and released by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

The 124-page report features data from tests on 341 water samples from 189 water utilities in 41 states. About two-thirds of those samples came from groundwater sources, while another third came from surface sources. The report found hexavalent chromium nationwide, particularly in groundwater. The highest levels were found in California.

The study emphasizes that the “majority of the hexavalent chromium results were found to be less than” the current U.S. EPA Method Detection Limit. But it also concluded that conventional filtering systems used by water utilities in 2004 were typically ineffective in addressing hexavalent chromium.
–The New York Times

 Research: Invasive species could cost $1.4 trillion
The recent disasters in Japan may be driving increased resolve to plan for biological invasions of species, a crisis that can be as costly as natural disasters.

Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year of damage – 5 percent of the global economy – according to an article in this month’s “BioScience.”

The report by three biologists from McGill University in Montreal contends that biological invasions may be more damaging economically than natural disasters.

“Obviously, the disaster in Japan will bring to people’s attention the problem of rare extreme hazards,” said invasive species biologist Anthony Ricciardi, lead author of the report. “You never know when they are going to strike, or how costly they will be.”

Their proposal is simple: because biological invasions are similar to natural disasters, they require similar management strategies that are not currently in place in any nation. This includes safety codes and standards, emergency preparedness and rapid-response measures similar to those in place for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
–Medill Reports