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.
Minnesota forum set on U.S. Farm Bill
Every five years, a massive federal Farm Bill allocates tens of billions of dollars to food programs for the poor, subsidies to farmers producing many crops, a fast-growing crop insurance program and incentives for farmers to practice conservation.
Learn about the Farm Bill, scheduled to be re-authorized by Congress next year or perhaps in 2013, and prospects for changes in it in an era of high commodity prices and demands for reduced federal spending. Offer your input for how the bill should be changed.
The Freshwater Society is joining the Izaak Walton League of America in planning and organizing a Monday, Aug. 22, forum in West St. Paul that will focus on the next Farm Bill to be considered by Congress. The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.
The Freshwater Society is one of several conservation groups, farm organizations and state agencies helping the Izaak Walton League plan and organize the conference. Learn more about the forum.
Register now: Festival benefits Freshwater
The Freshwater Society will receive the proceeds from a Wednesday, Sept. 7, festival and fund-raiser at Otten Bros. Garden Center and Landscaping in Long Lake.
The “Fresh for All” festival kicks off a four-day sale of recycled and re-imagined arts and crafts.
The JUNKMARKET Under Glass sale is sponsored by Otten Bros. and author and entrepreneur Sue Whitney. The Sept. 7 opening night event features food, drink, music, a silent auction of crafts and works of art, and admission to the sale.
EPA declines to set ‘dead zone’ rules
Environmentalists say the Environmental Protection Agency has shot down a request for new regulations to deal with the massive area of low oxygen that crops up every summer in the Gulf of Mexico due to the huge amount of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer, urban runoff and sewage systems that winds up in the Gulf.
Environmental groups in Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Kentucky asked EPA to draw up nationwide standards for nutrient pollution.
In a recent letter, EPA said it favored keeping the current system because it would be too time consuming and costly to undertake “an unprecedented and complex set of rulemakings.”
Environmentalists, who’ve formed the Mississippi River Collaborative, said that leaving individual states to regulate nutrients would do little to solve the dead zone.
–The Associated Press
Record ‘dead zone’ so far fails to materialize
As the Midwest reeled from catastrophic flooding this spring, scientists warned of devastating consequences for the Gulf of Mexico this summer.
They feared that chemicals and waste rushing down the Mississippi would result in the largest-ever oxygen-depleted “dead zone” measured in the gulf since monitoring began in 1985.
New results are in: the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration announced that a team of scientists mapping the dead zone had just returned from a midsummer research cruise. The zone was mapped at 6,765 square miles — above average, but not as large as the 8,500 to 9,400 square miles predicted earlier. In fact, this year’s dead zone is only the 11th-largest of those recorded in the last 20 years.
But it is hardly time for a collective sigh of relief, according to Nancy Rabalais, chief scientist of the Louisiana Marine Consortium, who led the research effort. She emphasized that Tropical Storm Don had swept through the gulf as the research team was collecting data last week, stirring up the otherwise stratified waters and at least temporarily supplying oxygen to formerly depleted areas.
–The New York Times
Pawlenty: Global warming natural
Tim Pawlenty is chalking up global warming almost entirely to natural causes.
The Republican presidential candidate who once cut commercials advocating for cap-and-trade legislation while serving as Minnesota governor told The Miami Herald that he doesn’t believe in the science attributing climate change to humans.
“The weight of the evidence is that most of it, maybe all of it, is because of natural causes,” Pawlenty said in an interview. “But to the extent there is some element of human behavior causing some of it — that’s what the scientific debate is about. That’s why we’ve seen all this back and forth between some of those prominent scientists in the world arguing about that very point.”
Pressed to explain how his view squares with scientific research concluding human activities are very likely to blame for the warming planet, Pawlenty replied, “There’s lots of layers to it. But at least as to any potential man-made contribution to it, it’s fair to say the science is in dispute.
’87 EPA report documented ‘fracking’ contamination
For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.
The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.
“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.
t is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.
But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.
–The New York Times (Part of the Times’ Drilling Down series on the risks of natural gas drilling)
Chicago hunt finds no Asian carp
Authorities hunting for Asian carp in waterways near Chicago say they didn’t find any during four days of intensive monitoring.
Crews used electric jolts to stun fish and set huge nets during stepped-up surveillance of Lake Calumet and the Calumet River this week. The efforts came after tests found DNA from the carp in the waterways beyond electric barriers meant to keep them out of the Great Lakes.
The barriers repel the fish by giving them a jolt, and are in canals connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River watershed.
Scientists fear the voracious carp could starve out prized Great Lakes sport fish if they get into the lakes.
–The Associated Press
Opinion: EPA sends ‘wake up’ to Wisconsin
In a letter to state officials, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently noted numerous deficiencies in the way Wisconsin manages water pollution. The letter is part of a review process, and state officials say some deficiencies were bound to come up. They also say that they will work to address the concerns.
But finding 75 deficiencies in the state’s management of the Clean Water Act, something the state took over in 1974, is indeed
troubling, as an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates argued. “This is certainly one of the most dramatic statements I have seen from the EPA,” said that attorney, Dennis M. Grzezinski.
The EPA’s list of deficiencies ranged from long-standing state practices to measures advanced this year by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The letter should serve as a wake-up call to the Department of Natural Resources and to state legislators to tighten up the state water permitting process to make sure it’s in accord with the federal Clean Water Act. Legislators also should be careful that they don’t further loosen the rules as they consider Walker’s measures.
–The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Judge rejects tall tower near BWCA
AT&T Mobility cannot build a 450-foot lighted cellphone tower that would be visible from portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a Hennepin County judge ruled.
But Judge Philip Bush said the telecommunications company can build a 199-foot unlit tower on the same site that would not be visible from inside the federal wilderness.
“It would provide very similar coverage to area residents,” said Paul Danicic, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, the Minneapolis-based wilderness advocacy group that fought the company’s proposal. “So we’re glad they can go ahead and do it. It’s a win-win.”
In his decision, Bush wrote that the proposed 450-foot tower and its flashing lights would materially impair the scenic and other natural resources of the wilderness and would violate the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.
bush found the tower would “have a significant, persistent and long-term negative effect on the scenic views from numerous locations within the BWCAW.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Pipestone manufacturer penalized for pollution
In a court settlement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Suzlon Rotor Corp. has agreed to resolve air quality, hazardous waste, solid waste, and stormwater violations at its wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Pipestone.
Under the terms of the consent decree, entered July 7 in Pipestone County District Court, Suzlon has completed corrective actions, and will pay a civil penalty of $490,000.
A 2009 MPCA inspection revealed sandblasting operations far exceeded emissions standards for airborne particles. In addition, the company failed to evaluate waste for hazardous substances, or properly manage its hazardous waste. Other hazardous waste violations included improper disposal of lead-containing damaged turbine blades in a landfill. The lead has been recovered from the landfill.
–MPCA News Release
July was 4th-hottest on record
Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records last month, making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally, according to scientists at NOAA’s
National Climatic Data Center. The heat exacerbated drought conditions, resulting in the largest “exceptional” drought footprint in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Exceptional” is the most severe category of drought on the drought monitor scale. Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s.
The average U.S. temperature in July was 77.0 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 2.46 inches. This was 0.32 inch below the long-term average, with large variability between regions. This monthly analysis, based on records dating back to 1895, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA
–NOAA News Release
BWSR announces grant availability
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources) announced that $16.6 million in competitive grants is available for projects that will protect and restore Minnesota’s streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Funding for the competitive grants is provided by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
BWSR Executive Director John Jaschke said interested citizens should contact an eligible local government unit to find out how they can support the grant application process and participate in local efforts to protect and restore water quality.
Eligible projects include those that control stormwater runoff in urban and agricultural areas, or that will improve water quality by replacing problem septic systems, upgrading feedlots, or establishing native vegetation along shorelines in environmentally sensitive areas. Summaries of previously funded projects and more information about BWSR’s role in the Legacy Amendment is available on the BWSR website: www.bwsr.state.mn.us/citizens.html
The application period will began Aug. 8; the deadline to apply is Sept. 20.
–Board of Water and Soil Resources News Release
Ben Franklin beats invasive species rap
American founding father Benjamin Franklin was – among many things – a highly regarded scientist.
So it seems appropriate that it was science which proved him blameless in importing an invasive species of tree which has overrun thousands of acres of U.S. coastal prairie from Florida to East Texas.
While in London in the late 1700’s, it seems Ben was taken with the potential offered by the Chinese tallow tree.
Each of the tallow tree’s seeds is covered by a waxy, white tallow which can be processed to make much-needed items such as soap, candles and edible oil.
The fact that these trees tend to be quite bountiful, with each producing up to a half million seeds per year, added to its appeal.
So, Mr. Franklin packed up a batch of tree seeds and sent it back to his friends in the States for them to plant, harvest and process.–Voice of America
USGS research: Falling leaves contain mercury
Fallen autumn leaves transfer as much, if not more, hazardous mercury from the atmosphere to the environment as does precipitation each year, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey research.
Mercury is an environmental contaminant that accumulates in fish and food webs and poses a health risk to humans and wildlife. Precipitation is a major avenue by which mercury is transferred from the atmosphere into the environment, but new studies by the USGS and partners show that litterfall—the leaves and needles that drop to the forest floor each year—delivers at least as much mercury to eastern U.S. ecosystems as precipitation, and precipitation has been increasing in the Great Lakes region.
“Before these studies, we didn’t know the extent of litterfall as a mercury pathway in different types of forests across the eastern U.S.,” said USGS research hydrologist Martin Risch. “Our research found that annual amounts of mercury deposited in autumn litterfall from deciduous forests were equal to or exceeded the annual amounts deposited in precipitation.”
Most of the mercury that eventually ends up in fish and food webs comes from the air, and much of the mercury in the air comes from human sources such as coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, cement manufacturing, and incinerators. Forest canopies
naturally remove mercury from the air and incorporate the mercury into and onto the leaves and needles of trees.
–USGS News Release
Wisconsin ground water initiative debuts
The groundwater of Wisconsin’s central sands region is a vital resource that sustains a diverse regional economy comprised of rural communities, businesses, agricultural industries and fishing and recreational interests.
The region is home to businesses such as Del Monte Corp., one of the nation’s premier vegetable product centers, Lands’ End, Kimberly-Clark, Foremost Farms USA, Sentry Insurance, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Travel Guard, McCain Foods
and Golden County Foods. Farms and agri-businesses are key employers having a tremendous economic impact on the region.
During the past two decades, increasing business development, population growth and an expanding recreational market have led to concerns regarding the long-term quality and availability of groundwater in the central sands region. In particular, concerns have been raised regarding how the agricultural industry affects the region’s groundwater.
In response to these concerns, the University of Wisconsin — through the Wisconsin Institute of Sustainable Agriculture — is launching the Central Wisconsin Water Initiative. The initiative will be led by Dr. Sam Kung, professor of soil science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will feature a team of scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines.
–The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune