Mercury in fish; food sustainability

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.

Mercury levels in fish increase
Mercury emitted from American smokestacks has been declining for years. But contamination levels in loons, walleyes and some other species have actually increased in the past decade, according to the largest report yet on mercury in the Great Lakes region.

The report, released by the Great Lakes Commission, was based on 35 research studies and samples from tens of thousands of fish, birds and other animals. It concludes that the forests, lakes and wetlands that characterize the Great Lakes make the region particularly sensitive to mercury pollution.

Even more important, the authors conclude, the nature and extent of the region’s mercury problem is more severe than was previously known — and, for reasons that are not understood, appears to be getting worse for some species.

The report found that mercury levels are higher in fish in inland lakes than those in the big lakes. That was true of walleye from northern Minnesota and other heavily forested areas with wetlands.

Six of the 15 most commonly eaten fish had mercury levels higher than the EPA recommends for human consumption. And many species, including loons, showed sensitivities to mercury at much lower concentrations than had been known.
–The Star Tribune

Article offers food sustainability prescription
Feeding a world with 9 billion people by mid-century, and feeding them while easing some of the environmental degradation that worldwide agriculture already wreaks on the Earth, is doable, but difficult.

That’s the message of “Solutions for a cultivated planet,” a major article in the Journal Nature.

Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, was the lead author in an international team of scientists who wrote the article. It was published on-line on Oct. 12; it will be the cover story in the Oct. 20 print edition.

The article calls for five changes in the way the world raises and treats its food:

— Halt the expansion of agriculture into tropical rainforests, partly by paying compensation for the ecosystem services those regions provide.
—  Increase crop yields in cultivated areas of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
— Use fertilizers and water more strategically.
— Shift diets to include less meat.
— Reduce the one-third of the world’s food that ends up being wasted, spoiled or eaten by pests.

If you subscribe to Nature, read the article here. Otherwise: read a University of Minnesota news release describing the article, read a Star Tribune article about it, listen to a National Public Radio report, or read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Foley about agriculture and the environment.

Organic food, ag leader to lecture
Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the
Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited. Please register to reserve your place.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

Deadline is Oct. 25 to win $500
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?

Then we have a contest for you.

The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.

Mexico may send drinking water north
Mexico ships televisions, cars, sugar and medical equipment to the United States. Soon, it may be sending water north.

Western states are looking south of the border for water to fill drinking glasses, flush toilets and sprinkle lawns, as four major U.S. water districts help plan one of two huge desalination plant proposals in Playas de Rosarito, about 15 miles south of San Diego.

Combined, they would produce 150 million gallons a day, enough to supply more than 300,000 homes on both sides of the border.
The plants are one strategy by both countries to wean themselves from the drought-prone Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. Decades of friction over the Colorado, in fact, are said to be a hurdle to current desalination negotiations.
–The Associated Press

Good news on the turtle front
baby turtleA baby turtle, about the size of a quarter, has caused a big stir and reasons for optimism with researchers at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A Blanding’s turtle hatchling was discovered Oct. 6, at a study site in Martin County in south-central Minnesota. Until now, the youngest turtle identified in this population was estimated to be 14 years old.

“It’s encouraging and exciting,” said Laurinda Brown, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. “It shows us that some successful reproduction is still occurring here despite significant losses of suitable nesting habitat.”

Brown is part of a research team that has been studying the Blanding’s turtle population since 2007. She said that although these turtles can live to be 80 years old, they have been hit hard by the loss of wetland and upland habitat through the years, drastically limiting their ability to reproduce. This has resulted in a reduction of local Blanding’s turtle populations. Since 1984, Blanding’s turtles have been classified as a threatened species in Minnesota, making it illegal to possess, sell, harm or harass the turtles.
–DNR News Release

Cities move away from fluoride
A growing number of communities are choosing to stop adding fluoride to their water systems, even though the federal government and federal health officials maintain their full support for a measure they say provides a 25 percent reduction in tooth decay nationwide.

Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.

Eleven small cities or towns have opted out of fluoridating their water this year, including Fairbanks, Alaska, which acted after much deliberation and a comprehensive evaluation by a panel of scientists, doctors and dentists. The panel concluded that in Fairbanks, which has relatively high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride, the extra dose no longer provided the help it once did and may, in fact, be harmful.
–The New York Times

Zebra mussels again linked to a boat lift
Biologists at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are concerned zebra mussels may be hitchhiking on boat lifts.

The DNR says a second case recently was discovered on the northeast corner of Lake Irene in Douglas County. A localized population of zebra mussels was found on a lift.

A similar case was discovered at Rose Lake in Otter Tail County in late September.

At Lake Irene, the DNR was called in to investigate zebra mussels found on a boat lift recently removed from the water. The DNR suspects the pests were transported to the lake this summer when the boat lift was moved in from an infested lake.

The DNR plans to treat the small area with copper sulfate, used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch.
–The Associated Press

DNR updates list of infested lakes
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has updated its website to show the additional lakes and sections of rivers that were designated as waters infested with invasive species during the summer and fall.

“The continued spread of aquatic invasive species highlights the urgency for increased awareness and vigilance by people moving water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts and water toys,” said Jay Rendall, DNR invasive species prevention coordinator. “Extra effort is needed to clean, drain and dry all equipment to prevent further spread from infested waters.”

Here is a recap of the lakes and bodies of water that have been added to the list:

Zebra mussels: Six water bodies have been designated as infested with zebra mussels. They include Rose Lake in Otter Tail County, where zebra mussels were discovered in late September; Brophy Lake, which is part of a chain of lakes that were previously designated near Alexandria; and four lakes downstream – Cowdry (Cowdrey), Lottie (Taylor), North Union Lake (Union) and Stoney (Stony). (Lake Irene in Douglas County, a recently confirmed infestation, will be designated in a subsequent DNR Commissioner’s order.)

Eurasian watermilfoil: Seven additional waters have been confirmed to have Eurasian watermilfoil. They are: Clearwater in Crow Wing County; Circle Lake in Rice County; Otter and Sylvia lakes in Stearns County; and Locke, John and Silver lakes in Wright County.

Faucet snails: Two lakes – First Crow Wing and Second Crow Wing — and an additional portion of the Crow Wing River in Hubbard County were designated as infested because of the presence of faucet snails. The snail has been linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish, Bowstring Lake and the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

Spiny waterfleas: Two waters were added in the vicinity of Lake of the Woods because spiny waterfleas are present. Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported. They can collect in masses, sticking to fishing lines, downrigger cables and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs.

View the list of infested waters.
–DNR News Release

Two endangered whooping cranes shot
Whooping crane chicks have definite personalities. Chick L10 was shy but blossomed into a rascal, and Chick L8 had an early tendency toward being a bit of a bully, but eventually learned to get along with his peers.

Whooping crane Chick L8 was hatched on June 4, 2010. When he was about a month old, he became a “meanie” toward other chicks and could not be walked with any other cranes. He had to live and exercise by himself for a long time and was the last bird to be socialized with the rest of his cohorts. But it turns out that Chick L8 was just a late bloomer, and he eventually learned to live peaceably with others. Chick L8 has a sister, who was also released in Louisiana.

Both of these gangly, adolescent whooping cranes were shot and killed in Louisiana on Monday, October 10, 2011, and though two alleged shooters have been identified, the world of whooping crane scientists, managers, caretakers, volunteers, and birders is in mourning — once again.

Tragically, these are the sixth and seventh shooting deaths of reintroduced endangered U.S. whooping cranes in 2011.
–U.S. Geological Survey News Release

Texans to vote on $6 billion for water
Allan Ritter pushed a bill to make 25 million Texans pay an extra $3.25 a year to help provide water for decades. Then, with a record drought devastating farms and ranches, the state representative’s party leaders waded in.

“We couldn’t get the votes,” said the Republican from Nederland who heads the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers who run the chamber sought to oblige Governor Rick Perry’s pledge not to boost taxes instead.

“You couldn’t get the votes in the House to raise revenue for anything last session,” Ritter said. Since 1996, when lawmakers mandated statewide water planning, Texans haven’t agreed on how to pay for needed work. This year, as crops withered and cattle went to early slaughter, pressure rose for action to protect the economy and sustain a surging population. Perry called on citizens to pray for rain six months after the drought began. On Nov. 8, voters will decide on letting the state carry as much as $6 billion in water-related debt.
–Bloomberg News Service

Gore ties global warming to pollution
It’s been more than five years since Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” put global warming at the forefront of the national debate.

And the former vice president’s passion for the subject appears intact.

Gore arrived on the Wayne State University campus and delivered a rousing address tying the fight to combat climate change to other environmental issues — particularly, efforts to help the Great Lakes region rebound from decades of industrial pollution.

If anything, the intensity of Gore’s arguments might have increased in recent years.

As an example, Gore drew a parallel between high levels of phosphorous scientists believe are pouring into the Great Lakes and resulting in harmful algal blooms with the carbon emissions believed to be affecting the ozone layer.
–The Detroit News

Met Council may sue 3M over pollution
The Metropolitan Council is considering legal action against 3M Co. after state regulators said the agency may have to spend millions of dollars on wastewater treatment plants to clean up a toxic pollutant connected to the corporation’s manufacturing sites.

The development brings yet another player into the decades-long battle over perfluorochemical (PFC) contamination in the Mississippi River and groundwater in the east metro area, which already has cost 3M millions of dollars in cleanup and remediation.

PFCs are industrial compounds widely used in the manufacture of household products, but which are viewed as an emerging environmental health concern. In high concentrations the compounds are toxic, especially the one at issue in the Met Council’s plants, known as perfluorooctane sulfanate or PFOS.

3M stopped using the compounds in 2002, but last year the Minnesota attorney general filed suit against the company after 3M and the state were unable to reach agreement on future cleanup costs and water treatment related to many years of contamination in the east metro area.

Now, the council is considering joining in that lawsuit, as the city of Lake Elmo did after it was filed.
–The Star Tribune

Suit challenges ozone inaction
Five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration over its rejection of a proposed stricter new standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns.

The groups said that President Obama’s refusal to adopt the new standard was illegal and left in place an inadequate air quality rule from the Bush administration. Near the end of his presidency, George W. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory panel and set the permissible ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion.

The current E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel. But President Obama rejected that proposal on Sept. 2, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry. He ordered the E.P.A. to conduct further scientific studies and come up with a new proposal in 2013.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin DNR reviews dairy’s water permit
The Department of Natural Resources said it will reconsider a key permit for a large dairy farm proposed in Adams County after the agency received an analysis by a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hydrogeologist who concluded the farm is likely to reduce local water supplies.

The DNR had made a preliminary determination that groundwater pumping by the 4,200-cow Richfield Dairy would not harm local conditions.

And a spokesman for the company developing the farm also emphasized that the pumping of more than 50 million gallons of water annually won’t be more than the irrigation now used for potatoes on the same land.

The Richfield Dairy is being developed by Kaukauna-based Milk Source, which owns the state’s largest dairy farm, Rosendale Dairy, in Fond du Lac County. It operates two other farms and a third is slated to open early next year.

If Richfield Dairy is constructed, Milk Source will own five dairy farms with about 26,500 cows, according to the company. In addition, it owns a separate 9,200-calf operation near De Pere.

At Richfield Dairy, the company needs DNR permits for a high-capacity well and wastewater discharge, along with an environmental assessment of the project. Approvals on all three are pending, according to the DNR.

The DNR said it is reconsidering the permit for the high-capacity well after George Kraft of UW-Stevens Point said the farm would harm local water bodies and draw down the aquifer.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Heron Lake water management fee opposed
More than 20 people who live within the outline of a proposed Water Management District in the Heron Lake Watershed provided comment to members of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources regarding additional fees they could be assessed if a WMD plan is approved.

The nearly two-hour public hearing at times grew heated as people expressed their displeasure at “another tax,” and the prospect of a plan being implemented by an HLWD board consisting of five appointed, rather than elected, members.

Most of the approximately 75 people in attendance were residents of Jackson County, where county commissioners voted against the WMD plan earlier this year. Both the Nobles and Murray county boards of commissioners approved the proposal in July.
–The Worthington Daily Globe

Target promises seafood sustainability
The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. operates 1,762 stores, many of which are converting to incorporate PFresh markets that sell fresh and frozen foods, including fish.

In 2010, Target stopped selling farmed salmon, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy due to various sustainability issues. It currently sells 50 different brands of fish certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council or the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

“We thought this larger commitment to fully eliminate anything that’s not certified by 2015 would be the right thing to do to encourage our guests to make the right decisions,” said Shawn Gensch, vice president of marketing for Target’s sustainability initiatives.

Target is partnering with the nonprofit marine conservation group FishWise to reach its sustainability goals. According to FishWise executive director Tobias Aguirre, the group will assess all Target seafood products with vendor surveys to understand how the seafood is caught or farmed and will evaluate the environmental impacts associated with each product.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation fund focus of political fight
The 50,000 drivers who cruise daily along Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs drive through ranch and farm land marked by dramatic buttes and the presence of wild animals, a vista that might have been very different but for a little-known federal program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress created in 1965, helped pay for this open space, along with large swaths of land in other areas across the country. But there is a fight looming in Washington as Congress plans to drastically cut the program’s budget, and President Obama, who had accepted cuts in the past, appears ready to oppose them.

The White House has warned it will veto the House Interior spending bill, in part because of its cuts to the conservation fund program. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone interview that the bill would bring conservation “as close to zero as it’s been in modern times.”

The fund is supposed to receive $900 million each fiscal year out of U.S. offshore oil and gas revenue to pay for federal land acquisitions. But with the exception of fiscal 1998, its funding has consistently fallen well short of that mark. The 2011 operating plan provided $300.5 million, and although Obama asked for $900 million for fiscal 2012, the pending House appropriations bill for Interior allocates just under $95 million.
–The Washington Post

Agricultural dust causes EPA dust-up
A Republican amendment targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s nonexistent farm dust regulations laid the groundwork for a surprising, and possibly precedent-setting, parliamentary maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The question now, is how do Reid and Democrats — particularly Midwesterners up for reelection next year — deal with the amendment the next time it comes up? After all, congressional Republicans have made their push to label EPA regulations as job killers a centerpiece in their fight against the jobs strategies from President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders.

“This will not go away. We will keep bringing it up every chance we get,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told POLITICO. Reid is “going to have to deal with me at some point. He can’t be king forever.”

Reid moved to stop the GOP’s ability to offer motions allowing for amendments to be offered to a bill even after a filibuster has already been defeated if two-thirds of senators allow. Republicans contend Reid made his move because there was a good chance the 67 votes were there for Johanns’s amendment.

The land of 10,000 logos
Nicole Meyer has her free time mapped out for the next 27 years. That’s how long she estimates it will take her to reach her goal of designing a logo a day for every lake in Minnesota.

“One thing is for sure: I don’t have to worry about running out [of lakes],” she said. “There’s almost an endless supply of them.”

A Wisconsin native who fell in love with the state while attending the University of Minnesota, Meyer started the project as a way of reconnecting with the area while working at an advertising agency in Arizona. Now back in Minneapolis, she’s determined to keep it going.

Every day, she picks a lake, researches it, designs its logo and posts it on the web site.

Lake associations have expressed interest in buying the rights to the logos of their lakes for T-shirts or signs, and Meyer is considering their offers. But the point of this has never been to make money, she insisted.
–The Star Tribune

Minnehaha Creek honors Watershed Heroes
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District  is honoring a company, a state agency, several nonprofit organizations and several individuals as Watershed Heroes for protecting water resources.

The honorees, who will receive their awards at a ceremony on Nov. 17, are:

Solution Blue  Inc., a St. Paul firm that specializes in sustainable design.
— Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which underground storm water holding tanks and a water-pervious  driveway and parking lot at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.
—  Minnesota Waters, a statewide non-profit organization that has taken a leadership role in confronting aquatic invasive species.
— Youth of Pierson Lake Association, a youth organization that  caught and removed about 35,000 pounds of carp from Pierson Lake.
— Lake Action Alliance, a coalition of the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association, the Lake Minnewashta Preservation Association and the Lotus Lake Association that has worked to protect its lakes and others against zebra mussels.
— Bob and Jan Halverson, who sold their 112-acre farm in Minnetrista to the watershed district  for less than its appraised value as a gift to the community.  The district  plans to conserve most of the land to protect Halsted Bay on Lake Minnetonka’s Halsted Bay.