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.
Save the date; Gretchen Daily to lecture June 13
What is a wetland worth? Is it only the price a buyer might pay for the land at the moment? Or does the wetland’s value include the future flood damage or water pollution it may prevent? How do you put a value on any individual natural site’s contribution to keeping plant and animal species from going extinct decades into the future?
Those are the kinds of questions Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily has devoted her career to asking and answering.
Daily, a global leader in efforts to protect the environment by attaching monetary value to all the services that natural systems provide to humans, will deliver a free public lecture in St. Paul on Monday, June 13.
Her talk – titled “Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model — will be the fifth lecture in the Moos Family Speaker Series co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. She will present the lecture at 5 p.m. in the theater of theSt. PaulStudentCenteron the university’s St. Paul Campus.
Stricter U.S. water controls proposed
The Obama administration announced that it will impose stricter pollution controls on millions of acres of wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams.
The new guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency, which will be codified in a federal regulation later this year, could prevent the dumping of mining waste and the discharge of industrial pollutants to waters that feed swimming holes and drinking water supplies. The specific restriction will depend on the waterway.
The question of which isolated streams and wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act has been in dispute for a decade. The Supreme Court has issued two decisions, and the George W. Bush administration issued guidance in 2003 and 2008 limiting the scope of the act.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a telephone news conference with reporters that although the new rules will expand the waterways enjoying federal protection, “this is not some massive increase, as far as we can tell.”
The policy change is likely to affect tributaries flowing into water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who chairs the water and wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, joined 13 other senators last month in urging President Obama to expand the application of federal law to such waterways.
–The Washington Post
Opinion: New water rules praised
The Obama administration’s new guidelines for the Clean Water Act are an important first step in restoring vital legal safeguards to wetlands and streams threatened by development and pollution.
The guidelines are opposed by the usual suspects — real estate interests, homebuilders, farmers, the oil companies. They were welcomed, rightly so, by conservationists and others who have watched in despair as enforcement actions dropped and water pollution levels went up.
For nearly three decades, the 1972 act was broadly interpreted by the courts and federal regulators as shielding virtually all the waters of the United States from pollution and unregulated development — seasonal streams and small, remote wetlands, as well as lakes and large navigable waters. The basic idea was that small waters have some hydrological connection to larger watersheds and should be protected against pollution that would inevitably find its way downstream.
Then came two Supreme Court decisions that left uncertain which waterways were protected by the law.
–The New York Times
Ag and EPA heads talk about soil and water
Read an op-ed column that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson jointly wrote for the Des Moines Register. In it, they say: “If we are going to solve the major environmental challenges of our time – combating climate change, reducing soil erosion and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production – farmers need more than just a seat at the table. They need to help lead the way.”
DNR offers drain plug reminders
A bright-yellow warning sticker has been created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help remind boaters to “check the drain plug.”
Invasive species regulations, which went into effect last year, now require boaters to remove the plug and drain the bilge and live well before transporting a watercraft. The DNR developed the sticker because some boaters forget to put their drain plug back in place before re-launching their boats.
DNR conservation officers say that some boaters have reported near-misses.
“I’m told that one angler returned to the dock after parking his truck and trailer, only to find his boat nearly filled with water,” said Tim Smalley, Minnesota DNR boating safety specialist. “This is something new that boaters need to incorporate into their boat launch routine.”
Bpaters can obtain the stickers at no charge by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367. They are also available by emailing email@example.com and requesting the “Drain Plug Sticker.”
–DNR News Release
Salmon struggling to survive in L. Michigan
Forty years ago, fisheries biologists in Michigan dazzled the nation when they took salmon from the Pacific Ocean and planted them in the Great Lakes. Their success transformed the lakes into a sport-fishing paradise and created a multi-billion dollar industry. But now invasive species have changed the food web in the lakes. Salmon are struggling to find food, and the state might end one of its stocking programs.
–National Public Radio
Douglas County, MN, board acts on zebra mussels
Douglas County Commissioners are plunging right in.
The board approved a list of action items to try to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species – specifically zebra mussels – in Douglas County lakes.
Currently, seven lakes are infested with zebra mussels: Lakes Darling, Carlos, L’Homme Dieu, Geneva, Victoria, Jessie and Alvin.
With a 4-0 vote, the county board authorized moving forward to:
- Take the position that no further lakes in the county shall become infested with zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species.
- Appoint Dave Rush, director of the county’s land and resource management department to serve as a zebra mussel “czar” to implement board-directed action to control, contain and eradicate zebra mussels.
- Sign a letter of intent with county lake associations indicating a united front to address zebra mussel containment and eradication.
- Commit an unspecified amount of funding to develop and place signage at lake access points. The Douglas County Citizen’s Committee recommended signage costs of about $1,500. The signs, stating “Don’t Move a Mussel,” would inform water-craft owners about pulling the boat’s drain plug, draining live wells and bait buckets and washing watercraft and trailers.
- Commit an unspecified amount of funding to establish a watercraft decontamination facility – also referred to as a washing station. A washing station would offer a spot at a lake access for watercraft owners to use hot water to wash off their boat, limiting the chance of transporting zebra mussels to another lake. With the Department of Natural Resource’s permission, the DCCC recommended a $26,000 washing unit be placed at the north access on Lake Geneva as part of a pilot project. That access has the space for a wash station and the Geneva Lake Association reportedly supports the concept.
–Alexandria Echo Press
Montana eyes boat inspections in invasives fight
Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on a new rule that would require vessels launched on Montana waters to be inspected at designated aquatic invasive species inspection stations operated by FWP.
Under the proposed rule, personnel at the stations would search the exterior of the vessel, livewells, bait buckets, bilge areas and trailers. If invasive species are found on a vessel, state officials would decontaminate it. The vessel would then be required to pass a second inspection before it can be launched on state waters. FWP has performed watercraft inspections since 2004.
–Hungry Horse News
Bad news on carp’s survival chances in L. Michigan
Some distressing news emerged at the end of a news conference at which federal officials went to great lengths to assure the public they are doing everything they can to protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion: the idea that Lake Michigan has become too sterile in recent years to support the giant fish may not hold water.
New lab studies show that Asian carp, which normally make their living sucking plankton suspended in the water, also have a penchant for noshing on the noxious algae blooms that have exploded on the lake bottom in recent years.
Plankton populations in Lake Michigan have plummeted in the past decade because of the invasion of plankton-loving quagga mussels, which now blanket the bottom of the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan. The mussels have dramatically increased the lake’s water clarity, and that has led to growth of sunlight-dependent algae, called Cladophora, on the lake bottom.
Tests are now under way to determine whether this algae, which regularly washes ashore and smothers some of the lake’s prized shorelines, including Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach, has enough nutrition to sustain the fish as they migrate up the lake shorelines toward the rivers in which they need to spawn.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MPCA seeks citizen water monitors
For the past 10 years, Watonwan County farmer Norman Penner has been making weekly visits to a small bridge over the Watonwan River, about 1,000 feet from his home near Darfur, Minn.
Penner, who grows corn and soybeans and raises beef cattle, is a volunteer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen Stream Monitoring Program. Penner and 1,700 other volunteers across the state take regular readings of water clarity at assigned lakes or streams. The information the volunteers collect aids in the MPCA’s efforts to improve water quality and ensures a long-term, continuous data record for water scientists.
Water clarity, measured using a transparency tube (for streams) or a Secchi disk (for lakes) is a simple test that helps water resource professionals understand the health of a water body.
This year marks Penner’s 10-year anniversary monitoring water clarity on the Watonwan River. Penner enjoys noticing how clarity patterns change during the seasons.
“In spring, after planting, I notice a lot of sediment in the water after a hard rain,” he observed. “Into the summer, as the crops grow, that doesn’t happen nearly as much, and there is very little change even after a heavy rain. You notice things like that when you’ve been monitoring for a while.”
The MPCA is currently recruiting volunteers for the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program and Citizen Lake Monitoring Program. Volunteers are asked to take readings of water clarity at a designated site every week from April through October.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer, call Laurie Sovell (for the streams program) or Johanna Schussler (for the lakes program) at the MPCA at 651-757-2227 or toll-free at 800-657-3864. More information is available at http://www.pca.state.mn.us.
–MPCA News Release
Small earthquake hits Minnesota
A rare earthquake rippled in and around Alexandria in western Minnesota early Friday (April 29), prompting numerous middle-of-the-night calls to emergency dispatchers and acting as a seismic alarm clock for one royal wedding fan.
The temblor at 2:20 a.m. measured 2.5 in magnitude, falling into the “weak” category, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no reports of damage or injury.
The quake probably “felt like a truck rumbling by or thunder,” said USGS geophysicist John Bellini.
Bellini said the agency collected several dozen “felt reports” on its website from citizens in Alexandria and nearby communities such as Brandon, Carlos and Garfield.
While there is a margin of error in pinpointing any epicenter, the USGS put this one on the southwestern edge of Alexandria, near the town’s airport.
–The Star Tribune
Questions follow farmed tilapia boom
AGUA AZUL, Honduras — A common Bible story says Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, which scholars surmise were tilapia.
But at the Aquafinca fish farm here, a modern miracle takes place daily: Tens of thousands of beefy, flapping tilapia are hauled out of teeming cages on Lake Yojoa, converted to fillets in a cold slaughterhouse and rushed onto planes bound for the United States, where some will appear on plates within 12 hours.
Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Although wild fish predominate in most species, a vast majority of the tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages in Latin America and Asia.
Known in the food business as “aquatic chicken” because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood.
–The New York Times
What’s a shark worth? A lot, it turns out
Sharks can be worth far more when they are swimming around the reef than when they are in a bowl of soup — as much as nearly $2 million each, in fact, according to the results of a study.
For the study, researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science considered the expenditures of divers who travel from around the world to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau to dive with the mainly gray reef and reef whitetip sharks that inhabit its waters, which were declared a shark sanctuary in 2009.
As a remote country of more than 300 islands — Manila, 530 miles away, is the closest city of consequence — Palau does not have many attractions beyond diving, so spending by international tourists on airfare, lodging and diving makes up an important part of the nation’s economy.
The economic logic is straightforward: diver tourism contributes about 39 percent of the country’s gross domestic product of $218 million, and 21 percent of divers chose their vacation there specifically to see the sharks, meaning that tourism to view sharks contributes about 8 percent of G.D.P., the study said.
The researchers concluded that the roughly 100 sharks that inhabit the prime dive sites were each worth $179,000 annually to the island nation’s tourism industry, and that each shark had a lifetime value of $1.9 million.
–The New York Times
California eyes Mexico for desalination
After more than a decade of public debate, Southern California water officials are considering Mexico for controversial desalination plants.
With efforts to build large-scale ocean desalination plants along the coast of California taking longer than anticipated, Southern California water agencies are looking more seriously at financing a desalination plant across the border in Mexico.
Water agencies representing southern California, Arizona and Nevada are in discussions with the Mexican government about sharing a desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, just south of San Diego. But it’s the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that are the most serious, based on interviews with officials.
Construction could begin in as little as two years on a plant producing up to 75 million gallons of fresh water daily. That is more than 50 percent larger than the biggest facility currently planned for California – within San Diego County in Carlsbad – which has been delayed by lawsuits and permitting for more than a decade.
–Natural Resources News Service
China plans $612 billion in water spending
Climate change is threatening China’s water supply, a government official said.
“China faces an imbalance between the supply and demand of water to support its rapid social and economic development, while protecting the natural environment and ecosystems,” Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei told a roundtable meeting on climate change in China, the country’s English newspaper, China Daily, reports.
Global climate change could further exacerbate existing problems over water security, water supply and farming irrigation, Chen said.
While China has the world’s largest population, figures from China’s Ministry of Water Resources indicate the country’s per capita water resources are only 28 percent of the global average.
Chen said China has a water shortage of 40 billion cubic meters a year, with two-thirds of cities experiencing increased scarcity of water.
The Chinese government is expected to invest $612 billion in water conservancy projects over the next 10 years.
Forest Service plots fight against invasive plants in BWCA
Superior National Forest officials asked for public comments on a new plan to battle invasive species on land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The plan is to attack the invading plants at critical spots using herbicides, people power and education.
While its remote location has helped keep the relative abundance of invasive plant species down in the BWCAW, the Forest Service has identified about 1,000 known sites totaling 13 acres for treatment in St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties within the 1.1 million-acre wilderness.
Most of the problem spots are near campsites and portages, indicating the plants probably moved in as seeds by hitchhiking with unsuspecting campers.
Invading species can choke out native plants and can affect entire ecosystems, including wildlife that is dependent on native species.
For more information on the plan, or to comment, go to www.fs.usda.gov/superior, and select Land and Resource Management” then “Projects.” Look for “BWCAW Non-native Invasive Plant Management Project.”
–The Duluth News-Tribune
Judge OKs EPA regulation of Florida pollution
Aiming a legal shot directly across the bow of Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-regulation agenda, a Miami federal judge cleared the way for the federal government to do something he contends the state has failed to do for decades: Enforce water pollution standards tough enough to protect the Everglades.
In the latest in a string of blistering rulings, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold reiterated frustration at repeated delays and “disingenuous” legal maneuvers by state lawmakers and agencies he charged have weakened rules intended to reduce the flow of phosphorus into the River of Grass.
“Protection of the Everglades requires a major commitment which cannot be simply pushed aside in the face of financial hardships, political opposition, or other excuses,’’ Gold wrote. “These obstacles will always exist, but the Everglades will not — especially if the protracted pace of preservation efforts continues at the current pace.”
Specifically, Gold’s order would strip authority from the state to issue critical pollution discharge permits for the state’s $1.2 billion network of nutrient-scrubbing marshes and give it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
That may sound minor but it potentially has major implication in ongoing, high-stakes legal battles between the state and the federal government over setting the bar for what level of damaging nutrients can be released , not only in the Everglades but in lakes, streams and coastal waters statewide — at least if his ruling stands up on appeal.
–The Miami Herald
Dubuque settles sewer suit
The city of Dubuque agreed to pay $205,000 in fines and to install $3 million in sewer system improvements over the next three years to settle a federal water pollution lawsuit.
A court agreement settled the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The state of Iowa will get half the fine money. Dubuque has also agreed to spend about $260,000 to install pavement designed to reduce runoff.
Dubuque’s violations of pollution limits date to the 1970s, the EPA reported.
–The Des Moines Register