Good news/bad news on western water use

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.

Good news/bad news on western water use
Water conservation efforts in the western US over the past 20 years appear to be paying off.

Major communities that rely partly or completely on the Colorado River for their water have reduced per-capita demand on the river an average of 1 percent or more each year between 1990 and 2008, according to a new study. In all, that’s some 2 million acre-feet of water saved – enough to supply Los Angeles for about three years.

But as populations grow, per-capita efficiency isn’t enough. Communities are still siphoning ever-larger amounts of water from the river.

 During the study period, the volume of water drawn from the Colorado River – by 100 municipal and regional water authorities – grew by 5 percent, even as the amount they drew from all sources rose by 10 percent, according to the report, which was issued by the Pacific Institute, a water-resource policy group based in Oakland, Calif.

 The increased demand was fueled by a population that blossomed from around 25 million in 1990 to 35 million by the end of the study period.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 Oceans are in great peril, report concludes
The state of the oceans is declining far more rapidly than most pessimists had expected, an international team of experts has concluded, increasing the risk that many marine species — including those that make coral reefs — could be extinct within a generation.

 The scientists, who gathered in April at the University of Oxford, cited the cumulative impact of the stresses on the oceans, which include ocean acidification related to growing carbon dioxide emissions, a global warming trend that is reducing the polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing.

‘‘This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted,’’ they wrote in the report.

 The April workshop, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean in concert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brought scientists from a broad range of disciplines together to talk about the problems in the marine environment and what steps can be taken to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems.
–The New York Times

Western Wisconsin well still controversial
A Crawford County landowner’s proposal to drill a high-capacity well for “emergency water bottling purposes” still worries some neighbors, despite proposed government restrictions designed to mitigate the well’s environmental impacts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued responses to dozens of comments generated by the landowner’s application to drill the high-capacity well. The agency attached a dozen proposed conditions that limit how much water can be extracted and how it can be used.

 Landowner Darrell Long said in his application that he would use the well sporadically to sell bulk water during emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

But neighbors fear he has bigger plans. 

Their concerns stem in part from Internet advertisements in which Long offers bulk spring water under the name Mount Sterling, the name of the nearest municipality.
–The La Crosse Tribune 

EPA criticizes House legislation
U.S. EPA warned of the potential dire consequences of legislation being fast-tracked through the House that would give states final say on rules concerning water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining.

In a four-page legal analysis (pdf), EPA said the measure sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) “would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”

GOP House leaders expect to bring the bill to a floor vote this summer.

EPA said the Mica-Rahall bill would “significantly undermine” the agency’s role of overseeing states’ establishment and enforcement of water pollution limits and permits. It said the measure would hinder EPA’s ability to intervene on behalf of downstream states harmed by pollution coming from a state upstream. And it said the bill would prevent EPA from protecting local communities from ill-conceived mountaintop-removal and similar projects allowed to go forward under Army Corps of Engineers-issued permits.
–The New York Times 

Engineers: Maintenance of  U.S. dams neglected
As the U.S. and China endure record-breaking floods this spring, there is a risk that is being overlooked amidst the inundated towns, evacuations and rising waters. Dams in the U.S. boast an average age of 50 years, and the American Society of Civil Engineers continues to give the nation’s dams a D grade overall in terms of maintenance. Will it take the catastrophic collapse of a dam—like the five in the 1970s in the U.S. that killed hundreds—before the infrastructure is repaired?

The nation’s more than 80,000 dams have served us well—restraining less-than-epic floods and generating billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity for regional grids. In fact, massive dams across the western U.S., like Grand Coulee in Washington state, still provide the vast majority of “renewable” electricity in the U.S., some 7 percent. At the same time, hydropower can help balance more intermittent renewable resources, such as wind power. For example, water can be held back water to cope with “wind droughts,” prolonged periods of little or no wind such as an 11 day wind drought in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year.

But these dams of legend are old. And old dams are in danger of failure—more than 4,000 in the U.S. alone are at high risk of imminent failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
–Scientific America

 Dairy penalized for water pollution
BGR Dairy has agreed to pay a $12,075 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and take corrective actions to address alleged compliance violations at its dairy feedlot operation near Lake Park, in Becker County.

 In November 2010, MPCA staff conducted a compliance inspection at the facility.  They observed noncompliant conditions that included a manure spill next to one of two liquid manure storage areas, lack of depth markers and damage to the liquid-manure-storage areas, three paddocks being used as open lots without MPCA approval and containing pools of manure-contaminated runoff, an unauthorized drain, and an unpermitted barn and associated open lot without runoff controls.  These deficiencies had not been reported to the MPCA as required.  In addition, a review of aerial photos in January 2011 showed an unpermitted expansion of the feed storage area pad occurred between 2008 and 2009.

BGR Dairy has taken steps to correct the alleged deficiencies and must complete all corrective actions by Dec. 1, 2011.  These include allowing no more than 50 head of cattle to have access to two open lots and closing two lots, submitting a complete application for a NPDES/SDS discharge permit, submitting complete plans for managing wastewater from the feed storage area and open lots, and repairing and installing depth markers in the liquid-manure-storage areas.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA offers new advice on rising sea levels
From his government office in Virginia Beach, Clay Bernick can see the future, and that future looks a rather lot like the movie “Waterworld.” 

The sea level is rising in Virginia Beach and the entire area known as Hampton Roads because of the warming climate, and the area also happens to be sinking for other geological reasons. 

Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations. 

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.
–The Washington Post

Mississippi R. levee repairs could cost $2 billion
The federal levee system that prevented an estimated $62 billion in losses during Mississippi River flooding last month sustained a good bit of damage itself, Corps of Engineers officials say.

The corps estimates it’ll take $1 billion to $2 billion to repair and rebuild the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which stretches from Illinois to Louisiana and is the world’s largest flood-control system. The work will include repairing 1,000 sand boils, or seepage areas, and restoring the Missouri levees blown up by the corps to purposely inundate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

“If we don’t restore the system by the next flood season, all the damages that did not happen from the catastrophic flooding this year might happen,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, which oversees the corps’ work.

 But some environmentalists are suggesting a rethinking of the existing levee concept, while a Knoxville advocate for clean water said the levee system is contributing to historic contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.
–The Knoxville News Sentinel/Memphis Commercial Appeal

 California groups oppose pesticide plan
Twenty-five environmental and pubic health groups asked Gov. Jerry Brown to abandon the state’s new plan for eradicating agricultural pests and explore a less toxic approach, such as crop rotation or planting neighboring crops that deter insects.

 The plan, announced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, would abandon the traditional practice of assessing the environmental effects of attacking pests one by one, and instead publish a $3-million comprehensive impact report on eradicating all flies, worms, moths and other insects at once.

 Such a comprehensive report would reduce oversight, according to Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.  “This is a huge state, with many ecosystems and bio-regions, with many threatened or endangered species, and it’s impossible to assess in detail all the implications of all possible pesticides for any pest or future pest” in one report, she said. 
–The Los Angeles Times

 Roseville bans coal tar driveway sealants
Roseville residents could face a fine or imprisonment if they are found guilty of violating a new ordinance passed by the city council.

Coal-tar-based driveway sealants are now banned in the city because they contain carcinogens that can end up in the water.

According to a statement released by the city, approximately 2-4 years after the sealants are laid down on driveways and parking lots they can begin to flake off and be carried to storm water ponds. Because the carcinogens are toxic and damage aquatic life, sediments containing them must be disposed of in a hazardous materials landfill, which taxpayers are ultimately responsible for in terms of cost.

The recommendations to ban coal-tar-based sealants came to the council from city staff and the Public Works, Environment and Transportation Commission. Other communities that are already banning the sealants include Maplewood and White Bear Lake.

 MPCA seeks comment on two Scott County Lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Cedar and McMahon lakes in Scott County.  The lakes were identified as impaired because they contain high levels of phosphorus. Though phosphorus occurs naturally, lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to frequent algal overgrowth.

The MPCA determined that the largest sources of phosphorus in the two lakes are the release of phosphorus attached to sediment particles, decaying vegetation from invasive species like curlyleaf pondweed, and runoff from the lakes’ watersheds.  In Cedar Lake, bottom-feeding carp also stir up sediment, releasing phosphorus into the water.

 The draft report concludes that the phosphorus level of Cedar Lake must be reduced by 85 percent and that of McMahon Lake by 81 percent.

The draft report may be viewed at the MPCA web site.
–MPCA News Release

 Taconite firm seeks Wisconsin law changes
Gogebic Taconite says that it won’t proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state’s review process to construct mines.

 A company official, J. Matthew Fifield, said that Gogebic is poised to spend $20 million to $30 million on the next phase of the project — but only if legislation addressing the specific needs of open-pit mining of iron ore is signed into law, he said.

 “For us to move forward, we need iron mining laws,” said Fifield.

The project would employ 700 workers with an average base pay of $60,000. It would also have a two-year economic impact during construction of $2 billion, according to the company.

 Mining legislation foundered this spring in Madison as deliberations on the two-year budget, collective bargaining for public employees and other issues muscled Gogebic’s interests out of the way.

 Wisconsin’s mining laws were written decades ago to address sulfide mining, which uses chemicals to extract minerals in rock. Iron ore mining relies on water, magnets and mechanical power to extract iron.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Research notes birth defects near mining
Birth defects are more likely to occur in Appalachian counties with mountaintop removal coal mining — including Eastern Kentucky — than in other counties in the region, according to a new study.

The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, suggests that birth defects could result from air and water pollution created by mountaintop removal, including mercury, lead and arsenic, which have been shown to pose risks to fetal development.

The study stops short of blaming mountaintop removal for birth defects. But its authors said they tried to account for other possible causes, such as higher rates of smoking, less education and poorer prenatal care among expectant mothers in mining counties. The common factor seemed to be proximity to the blasting of mountains to remove coal, they said.
–The Lexington Herald-Leader