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.
Ecosystem valuation: Putting a price on nature to save it
We all live on a crowded planet that is getting more crowded all the time. So how should we practice conservation, keep plant and animal species from going extinct and preserve the economic, social and aesthetic benefits that nature provides to humans?
The answer, according to ecologist Gretchen C. Daily, cannot be to create many new reserves where the environment is protected in a natural state, untouched by humans. Instead, Daily told a University of Minnesota audience on June 13, the answer has to be look for ways the plants and animals we most need can survive in coexistence with agriculture and other human activities.
And the answer to protecting nature in the face of human population growth, Daily said, almost certainly will involve putting a price on everything we get from nature so the environment’s value is recognized upfront in every decision-making process, rather than after ecosystems have been irreparably damaged.
In a lecture titled “Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model,” Daily, a Stanford University biologist, described the emerging science of ecosystem valuation, a blend of ecology and economics. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
EPA delays greenhouse gas rule
Facing intense opposition from Congressional Republicans and industry over a broad range of new air-quality regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency said that it was delaying by two months the release of a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources.
The rule would have a major impact on the nation’s efforts to reduce emissions of gases blamed for climate change, and its postponement is the latest step by the E.P.A. to slow the issuing of regulations that critics say will slow economic growth, drive up energy costs and reduce employment.
Its delay is a tacit admission that the regulations pose political, economic and technical challenges that cannot be addressed on the aggressive timetable that the agency set for itself early in the Obama administration.
–The New York Times
USGS: Humans put out more CO2 than volcanoes
On average, human activities put out in just three to five days, the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that volcanoes produce globally each year. This is one of the messages detailed in a new article “Volcanic Versus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide” by Terrance Gerlach of the U.S. Geological Survey appearing in this week’s issue of Eos, from the American Geophysical Union.
“The most frequent question that I have gotten (and still get), in my 30 some years as a volcanic gas geochemist from the general public and from geoscientists working in fields outside of volcanology, is ‘Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities?’ Research findings indicate unequivocally that the answer to this question is “No”—anthropogenic CO2 emissions dwarf global volcanic CO2 emissions,” said Gerlach.
Gerlach looked at five published studies of present-day global volcanic CO2 emissions that give a range of results from a minimum of about one tenth of a billion, to a maximum of about half a billion metric tons of CO2 per year. Gerlach used the figure of about one-quarter of a billion metric tons of volcanic CO2 per year to make his comparisons. The published projected anthropogenic CO2 emission rate for 2010 is about 35 billion metric tons per year.
–USGS News Release
St. Paul unveils river revival plan
In a dazzling effort to invigorate St. Paul’s 17 miles along the Mississippi River, the city has devised a breathtaking long-term vision for transformation of the river banks from the Minneapolis border to Pig’s Eye Lake.
Among the goals are a massive upgrade to the Watergate Marina to include a restaurant and canoe outfitter, a swimming pool on a barge east of downtown and a Riverview Balcony promenade at the former West Publishing site to physically and visually connect downtown to the riverfront with eateries and walkways.
Mike Hahm, St. Paul Parks and Recreation director, called the voluminous plan “an epic vision not just for transforming parks but the city and its relationship and connection with the riverfront.”
He said “underutilized is the most generous” way to describe the city’s tie to the river now.
That would change dramatically as other anticipated amenities include a climbing wall area to be flooded with ice in the winter, a skate park, mountain bike paths, the unearthing of an existing stream from the Ford Plant to the river and a National Parks Service headquarters at Island Station, the former energy plant near where Shepard Road meets Randolph Avenue.
–The Star Tribune
Share your ideas for saving water
Minnesotans have good ideas—it’s time someone listened. The Idea Open brings everyday Minnesotans together to help solve our state’s most critical issues. This year the Idea Open is looking for answers to the question “How would you use $15,000 to help your community become aware of and address water issues in Minnesota?”
Starting June 21, people from all over Minnesota will be able to submit ideas to the Challenge. In the meantime, check out www.MNIdeaOpen.org to sign up for updates and connect on Facebook and Twitter. The Idea Open is a venture of Minnesota Community Foundation, in partnership with Pentair and its foundation on Challenge II.
–Idea Open News Release
EPA offers to back off Florida regulation
The uproar over a federal effort to force Florida to clean up its rivers and lakes kicks up a notch as state officials air their strategy to avoid the controversial pollution regulations by writing a new set of their own.
In a groundbreaking dispute between federal and state officials, Florida officials want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its pollution-prevention rules and give the state back legal responsibility for cleaning up its waters, even though the state hasn’t rewritten its rules yet.
The EPA, which has antagonized many in Florida by not being accessible for discussion and debate, said in a written statement that Florida’s latest gambit may succeed — but only if the state actually writes its new rules and they pass muster. If that happens, the federal agency “will promptly initiate rulemaking to repeal” its pollution limits, set to take effect early next year, wrote Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator.
–The Orlando Sentinel
Flooding may have spread Asian carp downstream
While scientists have been battling to keep a ravenous, invasive fish species out of the Great Lakes, some worry that spring floods along the Mississippi River may be spreading the Asian carp downstream.
Duane Chapman, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist and Asian carp expert, says the fish are likely to show up in places where Mississippi floodwaters intruded. They can weigh up to 100 pounds grow 4 feet long and live for 25 years.
They could be crowding out food sources of native species for decades.
“I think there is a very serious issue here,” said Chapman. “We may now be finding them in lakes, ponds, bayous, anywhere the river water went. Those things will be full of carp now.”
Asian carp is a term applied to several related species of carp that were brought to the United States in the 1970s to control algae in catfish farms in the South. Floods washed them into the Mississippi River in the 1980s.
Since their escape into the wild, the carp have established themselves in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. They endanger native fish by greedily eating aquatic vegetation and robbing local species of their food supply.
–The Associated Press
Research: Rockies snowpack declining
A U.S. Geological Survey study suggests that snowpack declines in the Rocky Mountains over the last 30 years are unusual compared to the past few centuries. Prior studies by the USGS and other institutions attribute the decline to unusual springtime warming, more precipitation falling now as rain rather than snow and earlier snowmelt.
The warming and snowpack decline are projected to worsen through the 21st century, foreshadowing a strain on water supplies. Runoff from winter snowpack – layers of snow that accumulate at high altitude – accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the annual water supply for more than 70 million people living in the western United States.
“This scientific work is critical to understanding how climate change is affecting western water supplies,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “It helps land managers adapt to changing conditions on the ground, assists water managers with planning for the future, and gives all of us a better understanding of the real impacts that carbon pollution is having on our resources and our way of life.”
USGS scientists, with partners at the Universities of Arizona, Washington, Wyoming, and Western Ontario, led the study that evaluated the recent declines using snowpack reconstructions from 66 tree-ring chronologies, looking back 500 to more than 1,000 years. The network of sites was chosen strategically to characterize the range of natural snowpack variability over the long term, and from north to south in the Rocky Mountains.
–USGS News Release
Babbitt blasts Obama on environment
Already under criticism over the economy, President Obama is now taking heat from fellow Democrats on another key issue: the environment.
Former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt visited the National Press Club on Wednesday to question whether Obama is willing to take to congressional Republicans who want to open more acreage to logging and energy exploration.
“I am returning to the public stage today because I believe that this Congress, in its assaults on our environment, has embarked on the most radical course in our history,” said Babbitt, who served in the Clinton administration.
A former governor of Arizona, Babbitt added: “Therefore, it is imperative that President Obama take up the mantle of land and water conversation — something that he has not yet done in a significant way.”
Stingless wasps unleashed on ash borers in St. Paul
The emerald ash borer was reunited with an old nemesis from the homeland as part of Minnesota’s attempts to impede the tree killer.
State Department of Agriculture scientists released nearly 2,500 stingless Chinese wasps onto infested ash trees in Langford Park in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. More releases are planned at four sites in Minneapolis over the summer.
The gnat-size wasps are the natural predator to the ash borer in their native Asia. Here, scientists call the wasps a “biocontrol agent.” Thousands of them will be let loose on trees this summer.
Monika Chandler, biological control program coordinator, said since the state didn’t have to pay for the wasps, the cost is minimal. “They work for free,” she said of the wasps. “Once you get your bugs out there, they’re self-sustaining.”
–The Star Tribune
UN report: Climate change will impact food production
Climate change will have major impacts on the availability of water for growing food and on crop productivity in the decades to come, warns a new FAO report.
Climate Change, Water, and Food Security is a comprehensive survey of existing scientific knowledge on the anticipated consequences of climate change for water use in agriculture.
These include reductions in river runoff and aquifer recharges in the Mediterranean and the semi-arid areas of the Americas, Australia and southern Africa — regions that are already water-stressed. In Asia, large areas of irrigated land that rely on snowmelt and mountain glaciers for water will also be affected, while heavily populated river deltas are at risk from a combination of reduced water flows, increased salinity, and rising sea levels.
–United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization news release
USDA funds ag-carbon project
With the Obama administration looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Agriculture Department is trying to perfect methods for farmers and landowners to get paid for emission-saving practices.
A $2.8 million project in Iowa and Illinois that the USDA is helping fund will study methods of cutting back on the amount of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that escapes from farmland as a result of farmers using nitrogen fertilizer.
The three-year project will involve 100 farmers in the two states.
The USDA will use this and other projects to attempt to quantify how much greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by various methods and how much farmers and landowners could earn in emission-reduction credits for different practices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
–The Des Moines Register
California groups to sue over ag runoff
Thirty years after toxic farmland runoff poisoned and malformed thousands of birds in a now infamous incident at a Central Valley reservoir, environmentalists contend the federal government has done little to stop the flow of hazardous contaminants into California’s second largest river and the important estuary downstream.
Several conservation and fishing groups announced that they intend to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and large agricultural irrigators for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
“This is a huge pollution problem that should have been corrected decades ago,” said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Time has run out.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
Invasive species headline Duluth aquarium
The story of the Great Lakes might be better if it didn’t include a chapter on invasive species — critters such as sea lampreys, quagga mussels and gobies that are creating economic and ecological harm across the region.
But that unseemly chapter is still one that needs telling, and the Great Lakes Aquarium on Duluth’s harbor front is diving in.
The new “Aquatic Invaders” exhibit opens June 30 at the aquarium, where officials hope the educational mission that’s become synonymous with lake trout, river otters and sturgeon can transfer to invasive species.
Work on the exhibit started as the aquarium readies tanks and space for live round gobies, sea lampreys and goldfish to go along with dead and replica zebra mussels.
–The Duluth News Tribune
Comments sought on Buffalo Creek
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Buffalo Creek, a major tributary to the South Fork Crow River. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, focuses on pollution caused by excess bacteria. A public comment period begins June 13, and continues through July 13, 2011.
Buffalo Creek runs primarily through Renville and McLeod counties and flows into the South Fork Crow River near the city of Glencoe.
Buffalo Creek was placed on Minnesota’s list of impaired waters in 2008, because of excess bacteria levels, particularly fecal coliform. This TMDL study indicated that bacteria will need to be reduced by 40-75 percent in parts of the creek for it to meet water quality standards.
The Buffalo Creek TMDL draft report is available online or at the MPCA’s St. Paul office, 520 N. Lafayette Road.
–MPCA News Release
Take a bear a day and call in the morning
University of Minnesota researchers think lessons learned from hibernating black bears will help save human lives in a unique study that could someday improve the odds of surviving a heart attack.
Despite starving for four to six months, a bear’s heart and other muscles remain strong and healthy, said Paul Iaizzo, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied hibernating bears for a dozen years. He is convinced that putting critically ill patients in the same sort of state of hibernation could save lives.
“You’re trying to protect the vital organs and the loss of skeletal muscle,” Iaizzo said. “And that’s exactly what the bear will do here at the den. So they could be the ideal model for that [intensive care unit] patient.”
Black bears are amazing physical specimens. They crawl into a hole in the ground in late fall. They don’t eat or drink anything for four to six months. Then they climb out in the spring strong and healthy.
–Minnesota Public Radio