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.
Flooding may increase this year’s ‘dead zone’
As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dead zones have been occurring in the gulf since the 1970s, and studies show that the main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fertilizers and animal manure in river runoff. They settle in at the mouth of the gulf and fertilize algae, which prospers and eventually starves other living things of oxygen.
Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.
For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.
–The New York Times
Philadelphia begins $2 billion stormwater effort
Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia have embarked on what environmental officials say is the largest project in the U.S. to reduce stormwater pollution through eco-friendly measures, such as porous asphalt and rooftop gardens.
The state and city, the country’s fifth largest with 1.5 million people, signed a “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, kicking off a 25-year, $2 billion effort to modify infrastructure to reduce the amount of rainwater tainted with road oil, litter and raw sewage flowing into rivers and streams.
Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and national environmental groups said the initiative should serve as a blueprint for cities and towns nationwide. The changes are expected to reduce by 5 billion to 8 billion gallons the amount of sewer overflow going into the city’s waterways each year, including the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. That represents an 80 percent to 90 percent reduction.
“Philadelphia is setting the national model for how to clean up troubled waterways, and how to do it right,” said Lawrence Levine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental advocacy groups that helped the city develop the plan.
–The Associated Press
Food consumes vast quantities of water
“We’re using tomorrow’s water to meet today’s food demand,” warned Sandra Postel, National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, helping to provoke a meaningful discussion on water as it relates to food at the Aspen Environmental Forum. Agriculture was a central theme as it consumes a disproportionate share of global water resources.
Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota painted a picture of our inefficiency. “One liter of water is needed to irrigate one calorie food, but that changes by factor of 100 for the most inefficient practices.” It is clear that water efficiency improvements for agriculture must play a large role.
One challenge is to gain an accurate understanding of the issue because allocation of water resources is not easily visible. Postel explained the concept of “virtual water” to paint a clearer picture.
Water is a direct and indirect component of everything we use, make and eat. The average American consumes 2,000 gallons of water per day and more than half is incorporated into our diet. Grain represents the trading currency for water in the same way that oil is a trading currency for energy.
–National Geographic News Watch
Buy some Patagonia shoes, support Freshwater
The Freshwater Society will benefit from Patagonia’s Our Common Waters conservation campaign, aimed at balancing human water consumption with the needs of animals and plants.
Patagonia, an outdoor clothing gear chain, will donate $10 to Freshwater for every pair of Patagonia shoes sold at its St. Paul store through the end of June..
The store is at 1648 Grand Avenue, St. Paul. A Freshwater representative will greet customers and provide information about the Freshwater Society at the store from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.
Patagonia, based in Ventura, Calif., annually donates at least 1 percent of its sales receipts to environmental groups.
Workshops set on conservation and GIS
Are you a GIS – geographic information systems – specialist? Do you work for an environmental organization that needs to better target scarce resources to areas where they will do the most good?
Learn how use terrain analysis tools such as LiDAR to plan and place conservation activities where they are most needed.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the University of Minnesota have extend edthe registration deadline for workshops June 15 in Moorhead and June 20 in Marshall.
The workshops are designed for GIS technicians-specialists from organizations that decide where to locate land conservation practices, such as easements or best management practices. For detailed information on the workshops and to register, go to:
The training sessions are coordinated by Ann Lewandowski of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center. Contact her at 612-624-6765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are wild horses an invasive species?
Animal rights groups are pressing a case in federal court maintaining that wild horses roamed the West about 1.5 million years ago and didn’t disappear until as recently as 7,600 years ago. More important, they say, a growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that today’s horses are genetically linked to those ancient ancestors.
The new way of thinking, if accepted, could affect hundreds millions of acres in the West where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management divides livestock grazing allotments based partly on the belief that the horses are no more native to those lands than are the cattle brought to North America centuries ago.
American history textbooks teach that the wild horses roaming Western plains were first brought by European explorers and settlers. But that theory is being challenged at archaeological digs and university labs as horse protection advocates battle the U.S. government over roundups of thousands of mustangs they say have not only a legal right but a native claim to the rangeland.
Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for Defense of Animals and other plaintiffs, told a 9th Circuit appellate panel in San Francisco earlier this year that the horses are “an integral part of the environment,” adding, “as much as the BLM would like to see them as not, they are actually a native species. They are tied to this land. There would not be a horse but for North America. Every single evolutionary iteration of the horse is found here and only here.”
–The Los Angeles Times
China plans $62 billion river diversion
North China is dying.
A chronic drought is ravaging farmland. The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill.
Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.
The engineering feat, called the South-North Water Diversion Project, is China’s most ambitious attempt to subjugate nature. It would be like channeling water from the Mississippi River to meet the drinking needs of Boston, New York and Washington.
–The New York Times
New York suit seeks ‘fracking’ review
A top New York State official filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force an assessment of the environmental risks posed by drilling for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin, arguing that a regulatory commission should not issue final rules governing the drilling until a study is completed.
The suit, filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn by Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, involves the Delaware River Basin Commission, a regional regulatory agency. Made up of the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers, it is preparing to issue regulations intended to bring some uniformity to the rules applied to a controversial type of gas extraction that combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.
The method involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground under high pressure to free pockets of gas from dense rock formations. The agency estimates that there could one day be more than 10,000 wells in the Delaware River Basin, a 13,500-square-mile expanse that includes a portion of the New York City watershed and reaches into parts of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Green, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties.
–The New York Times
Beware of blue-green algae
When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reminds people that some types of algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.
Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae, particularly a type called “blue-green algae,” can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing toxic blue-green algae.
Most algae are harmless. However blue-green algae, when sunlight and warmth cause them to “bloom” in dense populations, can produce toxins and other chemicals. There are many types of blue-green algae. They are found throughout Minnesota, but thrive particularly in warm, shallow, nutrient-rich lakes.
An animal that has ingested toxins from an algae bloom can show a variety of symptoms, ranging from skin irritation, vomiting, severe disorders involving the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems, and severe skin lesions. In worst cases, the animal may suffer convulsions and die.
Humans are not affected very often, probably because the unpleasant appearance and odors of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water. But human health effects can include irritation of skin, eyes and nasal passages, and nausea and vomiting.
For information about harmful algae blooms, go to www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp-toxicalgae.html or call 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA News Release
Bridge work closes part of Minnehaha Creek
A stretch of Minnehaha Creek in Edina will be closed to canoeists and kayakers from until mid-July to make way for a bridge improvement project. For safety reasons, the creek will be closed to canoeists and kayakers between the Browndale Dam and the landing at 58th Street in Pamela Park. Signs along along the creek inform people about the project.
Check the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District website for updates.
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release
Celebrate summer, the Mississippi River and clean water
Dancers — some in kayaks on the Mississippi River, some on rooftops near the historic Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis – will celebrate summer at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 25.
This event will be one of 45 Global Water Dances performed across six continents on June 25. This year’s performances focuses on global water issues and access to clean and safe drinking water. Partners in the project include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the university of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie, KBEM, Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio, and Earth Spirit Environments Inc.
Hamline University School of Education’s Center for Global Environmental Education provides public information about the care and health of the river. For information click here.
Measuring groundwater from spaceScientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water.
They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state’s $30 billion agriculture industry.
Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling here, said the center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, known as Grace, relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.
–The New York Times