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.
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National Research Council reviews Chesapeake clean-up
The new national strategy for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is better than the one used over the past 30 years, but is lacking in science, accounting and fairness, a study by the National Academy of Sciences concludes.
The study is depicted as an independent review of a blueprint pushed by the Obama administration to put the Bay on a “pollution diet” over the next 15 years and restore healthy water quality after 2025.
Supporters and critics of the Obama initiative found something to like in the report, prepared by nine scientists from across the country, including one from the University of Virginia.
Supporters latched onto its bottom-line message: A federally led strategy to cut the Bay’s three most troubling pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment – through two-year progress reports and detailed cleanup plans from six states and the District of Columbia is more likely to succeed than the old system of politically expedient promises and little transparency.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the report shows that, after decades of empty pledges and missed deadlines, government overseers finally are on the right track.
Critics said they were heartened to see some of their concerns validated in print, including a reliance on incomplete computer models and a system of analyzing data that “cannot on the whole be viewed as accurate,” according to the report.
For example, in determining if farms are reducing polluted runoff, the report notes how farmers who took action on their own and without government money were not counted as helping the Bay in computer models.
The report also points out that “nearly all states have insufficient information to evaluate their progress in reducing nutrient pollution,” and that few states even check to see if farm or stormwater improvements are actually working.
–The Virginia Pilot
EPA joins effort to regulate Renville beet co-op
Federal pollution authorities have quietly stepped in to help Minnesota force a huge sugar beet processor near Renville to end its long history of fouling streams that lead to the state’s most troubled river.
Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative has tangled repeatedly with the state Pollution Control Agency over its processing plant near the Minnesota River, and it has been fined numerous times in the past 15 years for air and water quality violations.
Now, in an unusual step, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the lead on legal action against the farmer-owned co-op and has initiated a discussion with executives about what it will take to address its chronic problems.
Co-op officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.
Taken one by one, the plant’s violations are not egregious, state officials said. But their ongoing nature, environmental advocates say, illustrates the limits of the state’s ability to enforce state and federal air and water quality laws.
–The Star Tribune
Forest Service retains motorized limits on lakes near BWCAW
A debate simmering since the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was passed by Congress has quietly ended with a formal decision by the U.S. Forest Service that favors conservation groups.
Jim Sanders, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, which includes the BWCAW, recently rendered a decision that will keep the number of motorboat permits on three chains of lakes in the Ely and Gunflint Trail areas at low levels.
Local home and cabin owners on the Moose-Newfound-Sucker, Birch-Farm and Saganaga-Gull Lake-Sea Gull River chains of lakes, along with the Forest Service, had sought increased motor permits for the lakes to offer easier access for property owners. The lakes are adjacent to the federal wilderness.
But a series of challenges and lawsuits from 1999 to 2006 by conservation groups opposed the increase, saying the landowners should be required to compete with everyone else who wants a day-use permit to operate a motorboat on the chain of lakes.
–The Duluth News Tribune
Opinion: Ag has role in preserving L. Pepin
It’s an essential truth that too few Minnesotans contemplate as they gaze over the state’s rolling fields or across their landscaped back yards. Human development has radically altered the state’s landscape.
Native prairie has been plowed under and paved over, wetlands misguidedly filled in. Beneath it all are vast networks of drainage tile to quickly move rainwater off the land.
All of this was done with good intentions.
Minnesota’s rich soil has helped feed the world and now, through ethanol, is helping fuel it. The growing communities derided by some as sprawl are home to the citizens who come here or stay here because of the high quality of life.
There is, however, a high price to be paid for this undeniable change in land use, as a newly finalized state plan to clean up a 64-mile stretch of the Mississippi River makes abundantly clear.
The so-called “south-metro” portion of the nation’s premiere river, which winds through the Twin Cities down to Lake Pepin, is choking on the sediment swept downstream by the tributaries that drain half the state — an issue spotlighted last year in the documentary “Troubled Waters.”
–The Star Tribune
Wisconsin deploys invasive hit squad
Authorities in Wisconsin will release an invasive species this month to kill another invasive species.
More than 1,000 tiny stingless wasps the size of a grain of rice will be let go at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville later in May in the hope that they destroy another insect – the highly destructive emerald ash borer.
This is the first time Wisconsin has experimented with the wasps to kill emerald ash borers, and it will become the 10th state to experiment with the insect.
Officials in Wisconsin said that the wasps present no threat to the public.
The emerald ash borer was first detected in 2008 in nearby Newburg on the Ozaukee-Washington county line. Since then, they have been found in Cudahy, Franklin, Oak Creek, Green Bay, Kenosha and Victory in Vernon County.
Wisconsin has an estimated 700 million ash trees.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Hoyt Lakes taconite plant penalized
Mesabi Nugget Delaware, LLC and Steel Dynamics, Inc. recently agreed to pay a $12,500 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for alleged water quality permit violations at their iron nugget production facility in Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The permittees have since fulfilled all of the settlement’s required corrective actions.
In 2005, the Mesabi Nugget/Steel Dynamic Hoyt Lakes facility received a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit that authorizes treated wastewater discharge to state surface waters. The facility uses water for a variety of purposes, including cooling and air emissions control. Prior to discharge, treated wastewater must meet specific effluent limits.
The MPCA alleges that Mesabi Nugget did not meet the permit’s effluent limits, effluent volume restrictions and various reporting requirements.
For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, visit the agency’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release
Fishing is big business in Minnesota
A ripple spreads when a bobber plops in calm water. Waves of economic impact roll over Minnesota when all its anglers do the same.
“Though often perceived as a pleasant pastime, fishing is more than that,” explained Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s an economic engine that supports 43,000 Minnesota jobs, generates $2.8 billion in direct annual expenditures and contributes more than $640 million a year in tax revenues to the treasuries of our state and federal government.”
These figures, Peterson said, are based on a 2007 study that analyzed the economic impact of the nation’s 39 million licensed anglers, including 1.4 million in Minnesota.
–Minnesota DNR news release
Faster rising seas predicted
Global sea levels will rise faster than expected this century, partly because of quickening climate change in the Arctic and a thaw of Greenland’s ice, an international report said.
The rise would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also raise the cost of building tsunami barriers in Japan.
Record temperatures in the Arctic will add to factors raising world sea levels by up to 5.2 feet by 2100, according to a report by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.
“The past six years [until 2010] have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,” the report said.
“In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 metres [3 feet] to 1.6 metres [5.2 feet] by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution,” it added.
–The Washington Post
Unexpected population growth predicted
The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report.
Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.
The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.
–The New York Times
Mercury in fish a danger; PFOS not so much
Fish taken in 2010 from nine of Minnesota’s 10 largest walleye lakes had levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that were either very low or undetectable, suggesting those lakes have very little or no contamination from perfluorochemicals (PFCs).
That is one of the early findings from new data for fish contamination recently received by the Minnesota departments of Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The results of the PFC testing mean that advice on how much fish can be eaten safely from those walleye lakes will not be impacted by perfluorochemicals. That’s good news for Minnesotans who like to catch and eat fish from those waters, said Pat McCann, MDH fish advisory program manager.
“Minnesotans can continue to enjoy the benefits that come from eating fish from some of their favorite lakes without concern for PFCs,” McCann said. “People should continue to follow the existing consumption advice for those lakes, which is based on mercury.”
The walleye lakes tested were Kabetogama, Rainy, Vermilion, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass and Upper Red Lake. The 10th largest walleye lake is Lake Pepin, part of the Mississippi River, which had been previously tested and had levels of PFCs that led to recommendations to limit consumption for some species. Perfluorochemicals are a family of man-made chemicals that have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.
For more background on perfluorochemicals in Minnesota, go to: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/pfcshealth.html.
–Minnesota Health Department news release
UM to commercialize storm water device
The University of Minnesota finalized an agreement with Upstream Technologies, a Minneapolis startup company that aims to commercialize a device that will improve sediment control for urban storm water.
The device was developed at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory, a research unit within the university’s College of Science and Engineering. Researchers nicknamed the device the “SAFL Baffle” and are finding it to be a cost-effective method for preventing harmful sediments carried by storm water from reaching Minnesota lakes and streams.
As water makes its way into storm sewers after a rainstorm, and eventually into lakes and rivers, it picks up sediments like sand and gravel along the way. These sediments sometimes contain nutrients that can interrupt the biological balance of lakes and streams and can be harmful to plant life.
“Urban runoff hits the road, goes into the storm sewers and ends up in receiving water bodies like lakes and rivers,” said John Gulliver, a civil engineering professor in the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering and co-inventor of the SAFL Baffle. “Cities are required to treat urban runoff and are trying to figure out how to deal with this.”
The SAFL Baffle is installed in a sump — a vertical cylinder that connects two or more sewer pipes. There are usually 30 to 40 sumps in the sewer system on a given street. The Baffle slows down water rushing into the sump and prevents it from picking up sediments that have settled there during low-flow periods.
–University of Minnesota news release
Groups sue over Chicago sewage disposal
With no end in sight to Chicago’s chronic water pollution problems, environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the routine dumping of human and industrial waste into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
The 12-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute about the river, which engineers reversed away from Lake Michigan at the beginning of the last century to block Chicago’s sewage from flowing into its source of drinking water.
Environmental groups accuse the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act by allowing sewage to pour out of overflow pipes during rainstorms. During the most intense downpours, district officials open locks separating the Chicago River from Lake Michigan and allow a noxious mix of runoff and disease-causing waste to flow into the lake.
The groups are asking for a court order to stop the district from dumping sewage into area waterways immediately, but the lawsuit does not specify how that should happen.
–The Chicago Tribune