EPA targeted by GOP candidates

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.

Republican contenders bash EPA
 The Environmental Protection Agency is emerging as a favorite target of the Republican presidential candidates, who portray it as the very symbol of a heavy-handed regulatory agenda imposed by the Obama administration that they say is strangling the economy.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota wants to padlock the E.P.A.’s doors, as does former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wants to impose an immediate moratorium on environmental regulation.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas wants environmental disputes settled by the states or the courts. Herman Cain, a businessman, wants to put many environmental regulations in the hands of an independent commission that includes oil and gas executives. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, thinks most new environmental regulations should be shelved until the economy improves.

Only Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has a kind word for the E.P.A., and that is qualified by his opposition to proposed regulation of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.
–The New York Times

EPA gets report on ‘reactive nitrogen’
A new report on the impacts of nitrogen on the environment has been released by EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

The report analyzed the sources and fate of “reactive nitrogen” in the U.S. and provided advice to EPA on “integrated nitrogen and control strategies,” according the report’s preface. (Reactive nitrogen includes all biologically active, chemically reactive, and radiatively active nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere and biosphere of the earth, in contrast to non-reactive gaseous N2, according to the report.)

The study, undertaken by a committee of scientists and chaired by agricultural economist, Dr. Otto Doering III, of Purdue University, presented its findings and recommendations.

In one of the key findings, the committee wrote: “In the United States, human activities across multiple sources currently introduce more than five times the reactive nitrogen into the environment than natural processes.” The largest sources included the manufacture and use of synthetic fertilizers, production of legumes, and the combustion of fossil fuels.

The report warned that excess reactive nitrogen in the environment are “associated with many large-scale environmental concerns” include dead zones in water, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain, nitrogen saturation in forests, and global warming. But noted “multiple strategies and action exist to more effectively minimize the inputs of reactive nitrogen and maximize nitrogen use efficiency.”

MPCA, U.S. Steel strike deal
The state of Minnesota and U.S. Steel have reached an agreement that allows the company to expand production at one plant and clean up pollution at another plant on the Iron Range.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials say the deal represents a good balance between protecting the environment and not interfering with economic development in a part of the state that needs jobs. Environmentalists and Indian tribes, however, oppose the deal because they don’t trust the MPCA or U.S. Steel to do the right thing.
The deal between the state and U.S. Steel, called a schedule of compliance, is similar to a contract, and it doesn’t allow for public input. It specifies actions the company will take at its Minntac plant — the behemoth of the Iron Range, near Mountain Iron — and the smaller Keetac plant, 30 miles to the west.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Vilsack hopes conservation programs survive
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told an Iowa State Fair audience that he hopes the next farm bill will preserve conservation programs that have been a part of federal farm legislation since the 1930s. But the former two-term Iowa governor said economics makes continuation of conservation efforts uncertain.

“There was less interest by farmers in the last round of CRP signups,” Vilsack said, referring to the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program where farmers idle land in return for government payments.
“In an era of high commodity prices and high costs, farmers are under more pressure.”

The next farm bill, Vilsack said, will be a different animal than its predecessors.

“In the past, policy drove money,” Vilsack said. “This time, the financial framework of the budget will drive the farm programs.”

The next farm bill may be one of the fastest assembled in the last eight decades, since the special House/Senate “Gang of 12” committee tasked with cutting another $2 trillion from the federal budget must have its plans in place by late October.
Farm interests still are divided about whether or not to lobby the special joint committee for favors and programs, or just take their chances and let the automatic 4 percent across-the-board reduction in all programs take place without a fight.
–The Des Moines Register

Iowa environmentalists to sue EPA
 Three environmental activist groups began legal action they hope will strip the Iowa Department of Natural Resources of its power to enforce federal water quality rules.

The national nonprofit Environmental Integrity Group joined the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Representatives of the three groups said they want the EPA to bring Iowa into compliance with federal regulations to clean up the state’s lakes and streams.

The groups first filed a petition with the EPA in 2007, seeking to remove the state DNR’s authority to handle wastewater discharge permits.
–The Des Moines Register

DNR seeks sonic barrier for carp
 In response to new evidence that Asian carp may be swimming in Minnesota waters, the state’s natural resource officials are accelerating a plan to build a multimillion-dollar sonic bubbler across the mouth of the St. Croix River at Prescott, Wis.

“This is a high priority for the governor, and we don’t have another project in the pipeline,” said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But we feel it’s imperative that we do something.”

DNR officials will present the idea to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the group that recommends how to spend much of the 2008 Legacy Act sales tax money. The barrier, which would deter carp but not other species, would cost a minimum of $7 million to build. It would be the first time such a system had been used across a major river, and it’s not guaranteed to work.

Landwehr said, however, that it’s the only viable option now and that Legacy funds are the only source of money.
–The Star Tribune

Dreaded invasive – the smallmouth bass – found in L. Tahoe
Researchers have confirmed the presence of smallmouth bass in Lake Tahoe, and they’re saying it’s likely the most voracious invasive species within the waters.

“In our work to remove warm-water fish from Lake Tahoe, we’ve discovered smallmouth bass, a much more ferocious predator than other species known to have invaded the lake,” said Sudeep Chandra, a limnologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, in a statement.

Scientists are especially concerned about this fish because it uses much more habitat than other warm-water fish. It can survive colder waters, and it uses rocky outcroppings — in abundance at Tahoe — for spawning.

“The population could explode and put more stress on the native fish population,” Kevin Thomas, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game, said. “We’ve had reports of smallmouth bass before, but now we’ve 100-percent confirmed its presence in Lake Tahoe.”

The smallmouth bass, found in the near-shore zone, not only consumes food needed by native fish, but also aggressively feeds on natives such as redsides, dace, suckers and chubs.
–North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

Redneck Fishing Tournament targets carp
Armed with nets and baseball bats, hundreds of self-described rednecks earlier this month battled leaping silver Asian carp at the seventh annual Redneck Fishing Tournament at Bath, Ill.

Conditions were good. The Illinois River water level was low and the fish were, literally, jumping.

Participants netted a record 8,977 carp, with the winning boat bagging 432 and another getting 306.
–The Muskegon Chronicle

Ban deer feeding to save moose?
Worried that Minnesota’s iconic North Woods moose population could be doomed, the state Department of Natural Resources is proposing an end to recreational deer feeding in northeast Minnesota and the possible closure of moose hunting.

But neither step may be enough to keep moose from vanishing from Minnesota.

“If we don’t do anything, the end point [for moose] is fairly certain,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program leader.

The proposals are part of a long-term moose management plan released by the DNR. The plan offers those strategies and others, including improving habitat and boosting research, to try to reverse the decline in the moose population.

But no one knows what factors led to the decline. Climate and habitat changes, parasites, impacts from deer and predation all could be causes.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin ads fight pollution
Elm Grove Village President Neil Palmer and Milwaukee Ald. Nik Kovac were pollutants, not politicians, for a day.

Both agreed to be dropped into a dunk tank at Greenfield Park in West Allis so the splashes they made for media cameras might be seen by residents of the metropolitan area and persuade them to take a few simple steps to reduce pollution of local waterways.

Palmer and Kovac – representing pet waste, lawn fertilizer, grease, oil and other pollutants rinsed off streets, parking lots and lawns by rain and melting snow – faced former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jerry Augustine at a dunk tank set up next to Milwaukee County’s Cool Waters Family Aquatic Park.

Recent studies found that contaminants coming off the landscape, known as urban and rural nonpoint sources, account for 90% of water pollution in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic and Root rivers, and in Oak Creek, said Jeff Martinka, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, or Sweet Water.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Minneapolis lake gets plastic islands
 Once a tiny jewel in the Minneapolis chain of parks, Spring Lake has all but disappeared from the public eye. Squeezed between Kenwood Parkway and Interstate 394, the little lake is surrounded by a wall of grapevine and buckthorn and, thanks to decades of urban pollution, coated in a thick layer of chartreuse algae.

But its fortunes changed. Spring Lake is now home to seven little floating islands built and launched to undo what humans have done to it. Made from recycled plastic bottles and planted with wildflowers, reeds and grasses, the floating islands act like wetlands on steroids and represent a new and startlingly simple technology that’s attracting interest around the world.

“It’s cleaning up water nature’s way,” said Arlys Freeman, president of Midwest Floating Island, the St. Paul company that designs and distributes them. “There is habitat for birds and butterflies, and below that they have habitat for fish.”
–The Star Tribune

Colorado water pipeline draws opposition
A plan by a Colorado businessman to pipe Green River and Flaming Gorge water from southwest Wyoming to Colorado’s bustling metropolitan corridor faces opposition from a tri-state area that includes Utah over fears it will impact present and future water rights.

“If this project moves forward, we’re afraid that whatever water rights we have left (on the Green River) will be a paper water right without any wet water,” said Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee.

The so-called “Million” pipeline is now being proposed as a hydropower project and will be reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, rather than the Army Corps of Engineers.

Aaron Million’s project as envisioned under his company, Million Conservation Resource Group, would entail construction of a 578-mile pipeline that would trace I-80 through Wyoming before dropping down into Colorado east of Fort Collins and ending near Pueblo. Million says construction costs range from $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion, although his critics put it much higher.
–The Salt Lake City Deseret News

Oklahoma tribes sue over water
 A water rights dispute between Native Americans and the Oklahoma government spilled into federal court when the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes sued to stop water being taken from tribal lands.

The tribal land is home to some of Oklahoma’s best water, and the state’s water agency wants to increase the amount taken from it in the coming years and send it to Oklahoma City, the state’s largest city.

But the tribes, in their lawsuit against Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City and the water resources agency, say the state has no jurisdiction over the land the tribes were granted by an 1830 treaty.

USDA promises $100 million for Everglades
More money is coming to help with restoration of the Florida Everglades, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and state officials announced during a tour of land that feeds into the vast sub-tropical wilderness reserve known as the “River of Grass.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will use $100 million to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners and help restore wetlands on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.

“This is an important day. It’s an important day for the United States. It’s an important day for Florida,” Vilsack said of the effort to reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land. The goal is to slow water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
–The Associated Press

Warming threatens Wisconsin ciscoes
The cisco, a key forage fish found in Wisconsin’s deepest and coldest bodies of water, could become a climate change casualty and disappear from most of the Wisconsin lakes it now inhabits by the year 2100, according to a new study.

In a report published online in the journal Public Library of Science One, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources project a gloomy fate for the fish — an important food for many of Wisconsin’s iconic game species — as climate warms and pressure from invasive species grows.
In the case of the cisco, a warming climate poses a much greater risk than do exotic species such as the rainbow smelt, the invasive that most threatens the deep-dwelling cisco by eating its eggs and young, the Wisconsin researchers say.

“By 2100, 30 to 70 percent of cisco populations could be extirpated in Wisconsin due to climate change,” says Sapna Sharma, a researcher at the UW–Madison Center for Limnology and the lead author of the new study, which predicts the decline of the cisco according to a number of possible future climate scenarios. “Cisco are much more at risk due to climate change rather than interactions with exotic species.”
–University of Wisconsin-Madison News Release

The Pronto Pups can wait – learn about water
The sixth annual Eco Experience at this year’s Minnesota State Fair features an array of fresh, new exhibits to engage fairgoers in learning about lakes, streams and watersheds.

At the Stream Lab, Eco Experience visitors will have a chance to build their own model stream in a sandbox. After turning on flowing water, they can experiment by changing the shape of their stream, making the water flow faster, or adding “plants” to the streambed. Like a real stream, the model stream will change shape in response to these changing environmental factors.

Also new this year will be an interactive rain garden photo booth. Fairgoers will be encouraged to browse a selection of native plants and choose a plant or flower that matches their style; for example, “tall”, “high-maintenance” or “always thirsty.”

Fairgoers can visit the Eco Experience from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., from Thursday, Aug. 25, through Monday, Sept. 5. The Eco Experience is in the Progress Center at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove. Look for the 123-foot-long wind turbine blade. For more information, visit www.ecoexperience.org.
–MPCA News Release

‘Conservation Volunteer’ archived online
Since 1940, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine has been a chronicle of Minnesota’s woods, waters and wildlife. Today, the entire archive of this flagship publication of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is only a mouse click away.

Thanks to a partnership with Minnesota Historical Society and a grant made possible by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, every issue published over the past 70 years has been scanned and is available as a searchable PDF file.

The archives, which can be found at www.mndnr.gov/magazine, are searchable by article, author and subject. Users can then choose to either download the article or the entire issue.
–DNR News Release