Study: Erosion steals tons of soil

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.

Study says soil erosion is increasing
A new study by the Environmental Working Group suggests that soil erosion from Iowa farm fields is significantly worse than federal data indicate, and that the U.S. is losing ground in the decades-old fight to control erosion and the water pollution it produces.

The chief author of the study was Craig A. Cox, who delivered a Feb. 24 lecture on agricultural pollution at the University of Minnesota. The lecture was sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. To learn more:

Sediment is strangling Lake Pepin
On a sweet spring day last week, Mike McKay looked out from a bluff above this breathtaking sweep of the Mississippi River and pointed out a scrubby little island that grows just a bit bigger every year.

“There’s a saying in our house,” he said. “The river giveth and the river taketh away.”

 For the past several decades, the river has mostly given to the lake he loves — up to a million tons of mud each year, enough to bury the Foshay Tower from top to bottom.

 At that rate, within this century the northern third of Lake Pepin will become a marsh, with a narrow channel dredged through its center for barge traffic. This grim accumulation represents a looming threat to one of Minnesota’s scenic jewels. But it also signals a much bigger problem that in the past 70 years has fundamentally changed long stretches of state’s two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Minnesota.

 Now, for the first time, a clear picture is emerging of the source of most of that sediment — the heart of Minnesota’s farm country. It foreshadows exactly who will be asked to take on most of the responsibility for protecting one of the state’s most treasured lakes and returning the rivers to health.
–The Star Tribune

Ice Out/Loon In party set April 21Freshwater celebrates spring April 21
This year’s ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was declared Thursday, April 14. Now plan to celebrate that event – a sure sign of spring – with the Freshwater Society.

 Freshwater is hosting a party and fund-raiser from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, at Bayview Events Center in Excelsior. The party celebrates ice going out on the lake and – further proof of spring – visits to the lake by migrating loons.

 The party will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, talks on loons and ice-out, a loon-calling contest, a raffle and a silent auction. The silent auction features scores of items: vacation getaways in Colorado and at the North Shore, fly fishing lessons, boat trips on Lake Minnetonka, Twins tickets, art objects, an antique boat motor and much more.

 Go to for information and to register to attend the event.

 Indian tribes press for water rights
Sardis Lake, a reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma young enough to have drowned saplings still poking through its surface and old enough to have become a renowned bass fishery, is not wanting for suitors.

 Oklahoma City and fast-growing suburbs like Edmond want to see the water flowing through their shower heads someday. So do the water masters of Tarrant County, Tex., 200 miles to the south, who are looking to supply new subdivisions around Fort Worth and are suing for access.

 Now another rival has arrived: the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, who were exiled to southeastern Oklahoma 175 years ago and given land in the area.

 Gregory Pyle, chief of the Choctaw nation, said his tribe would sue to win some of the water if necessary. “All this water was controlled originally by the Indian tribes in this area,” Mr. Pyle said. “It is all Choctaw and Chickasaw water.”

 The tribes want the state to recognize them as joint owners. The issue has been increasingly on the minds of city planners in fast-developing cities as they contemplate the prospect of tapping other existing water sources.
–The New York Times

 A glass of beer, some Cajun music – and science
Learn about the Mississippi River’s disappearing delta – and what can be done to restore it – in an informal, happy-hour setting.  Chris Paola, a University of Minnesota professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, will talk about his research on the delta and the efforts to control the river that have diminished it during A Sip of Science at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at the Aster Café in Minneapolis.

A Sip of Science is combination of science, music, conversation and food and drink. It is sponsored by the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics at the university, and it is held at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.

Paola will focus on how to restore and protect the remaining river delta – 3 million acres of coastal wetlands – while providing the flood protection and navigational services the United States needs. His talk is titled “The Delta Dilemma: Man vs. Nature on the Mississippi.”  Cajun music will be provided by Eric Mohring and Gary Powell.

 Wolves may be removed from endangered list
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it’s trying again to remove gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the federal threatened and endangered species lists, enabling those states to launch their own wolf-management plans.

 Several earlier proposals to remove federal protections have been blocked by challenges from environmental and animal rights groups.

 Hoping for a different result this time, the federal agency has tweaked its draft rule to respond to procedural concerns identified by courts. The proposal also addresses emerging information that two species of wolves coexist in the western Great Lakes area.

 After a public comment period, the agency will review feedback and publish a final decision later this year that likely will get another court challenge. 

“No matter what we put out there, they probably will challenge it,” said Laura Ragan, a wildlife biologist for the agency’s Midwest region. “My hope is we have come up with something that is solid and can withstand that litigation.”

 Collette Adkins Giese, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, maintained it’s still premature to lift wolf protections.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Appeals Court overturns invasives conviction
A minnow isn’t a fish, in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, and as a result, Kim Douglass Barsness is off the hook.

 At least that’s according to a ruling issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

 The case involves Barsness, a Baudette resident, who was caught by a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer in May 2009 harvesting minnows in Upper Red Lake, according to the appellate decision.

 Barsness had a permit to harvest minnows, but he was using equipment with orange DNR tags labeled “INF (infested) WTR (waters) ONLY,” the decision said.

 The labels are part of a DNR effort designed to stop the spread of an invasive species called the spiny water flea.

Upper Red Lake is not infested with the spiny water flea, and the DNR said Barsness wasn’t supposed to use equipment labeled for infested waters in Upper Red Lake, according to the ruling.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

TVA to close 18 coal-fired generators
In a sweeping legal settlement, the Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed for the first time to reduce its overall capacity to generate coal-fired electricity, promising to close 18 of its coal-burning generators over the next six years while spending $3 billion to $5 billion on pollution controls on any remaining units that use coal.

The accord, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, will bring about one of the most significant cuts in coal-fired power generation by any utility that relies heavily on coal in its fuel mix. The closings will eliminate 16 percent of the authority’s coal-fired capacity, and the accord holds out the prospect that some or all of another 18 units will shut down as well, for a total loss of as much as a third of the authority’s coal-burning capacity.

By the end of 2017, the utility’s emissions of nitrogen oxides, a crucial component in smog and ground-level ozone, will be reduced by at least 69 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions will be cut by 67 percent, the E.P.A. said, compared with 2008 levels.
–The New York Times

Could Coon Rapids dam stop silver carp?
The original question was simple:

After decades of serving as an effective barrier — separating fish downstream from those up — why is the Coon Rapids Dam no longer considered a formidable barrier?

 It is to most fish down the stream, but not to the silver carp, that fish also known as the “flying carp.”

This giant jumping fish, the one that leaps four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and even 10 feet out of the water when a motorized boat passes and the one that now inhabits many areas of the lower Mississippi River from Iowa to Louisiana and its tributaries east and west, is already in Minnesota and pointed toward…Mille Lacs Lake.

 That is, of course, if it can get over the Coon Rapids Dam spillway and into the upper portion of the Mississippi. A study commissioned by the Department of Natural Resources and the Three Rivers Park District from Stanley Consultants, Inc., says this could happen.

 It will definitely happen, the study points out, if the present dam is not upgraded soon and could still happen even after repairs and the planned preventative modifications are put into place.
–The Coon Rapids Herald


Nitrogen-skimping corn is ‘holy grail’
Marc Albertsen, the bespectacled, 62-year-old research director at Pioneer Hi-Bred, DuPont Co.’s seed-development unit, was catching up on paperwork one morning in July 2007 when he got a call from an assistant, Sharon Cerwick.

“Marc,” Cerwick said, “you’d better come out here and see this.”

Cerwick had been in the field inspecting rows of experimental corn planted next to Pioneer’s headquarters in Johnston, Iowa. The corn had been genetically engineered by Albertsen and his colleagues in hopes of achieving a new trait: more efficient use of nitrogen. That’s at the top of the corn growers’ wish list because the cost of ammonium nitrate fertilizer has soared 130 percent to $450 a ton since 2002. Albertsen and other seed scientists have been trying to build nitrogen-efficient stalks for at least five years, but their supercorn is still five to 10 years away.

 “You’re talking about our holy grail,” said Pamela Johnson, a National Corn Growers Association board member with 1,200 acres in Floyd, Iowa.

 In the field, Albertsen discovered one row of corn whose leaves were afflicted by a V-shaped yellowing, the telltale sign of nitrogen deficiency. The other row — the plants that had been engineered for nitrogen efficiency — was green and thriving. Both had been planted in severely nitrogen-deficient soil, but the genetically engineered plants seemed unaffected.

 Tougher Lake Tahoe invasives ruled eyed
Lake Tahoe regulators aim to get tough when it comes to people attempting to evade inspectors trying to protect the lake from aquatic invaders attached to boats launching into the lake.

 Later this month, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will consider rules making it illegal to lie to boat inspectors or tamper with seals designed to show boats have been inspected and are free of invasive species such as the quagga mussel.

 The change is designed to beef up a boat inspection and decontamination program that’s been in place at the landmark alpine lake since the spring of 2008.
–The Reno Gazette Journal