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.
Met Council joins state in suit against 3M
The Metropolitan Council has put a $1 billion price tag on a small part of the cleanup of chemicals made by the 3M Co.
The council gave that estimate as it announced it was joining the state of Minnesota’s lawsuit against 3M for damage to the environment.
The council estimates it will cost $1 billion to remove a chemical used in the production of the fabric protection treatment known as Scotchgard and other 3M products from the water discharged by the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant near Pig’s Eye Lake in St. Paul.
The cleanup will be required when state officials decide how much of the pollutant – PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate – should be allowed in Pool 2, a section of the Mississippi River between the Ford Dam in St. Paul and Hastings.
The standards are needed to protect fish and the people who eat them, said Dave Verhasselt, spokesman for the state Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Kirschenmann is a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
Weatherguide calendar photo contest set
The first signs of winter are everywhere. Take a photo that captures those signs – the freeze-up of ponds, the migration or hibernation of animals, early-season snowfalls — and enter it in a new Freshwater Society contest. The winning photo will be printed in the 2013 Minnesota Weatherguide
The deadline for submission is Dec. 31. The winner will be announced in January. Get details on the contest and how to enter.
Limit put on East Coast forage fish catch
A fishing oversight group voted to sharply reduce the allowable East Coast catch of menhaden, an oily forage fish that does not show up on dinner plates but is vital, scientists say, to the ocean ecosystem.
Millions of pounds of menhaden are caught along the Atlantic Seaboard each year, but the population is now at 10 percent of historic levels.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which includes representatives from 15 Eastern states and the federal government, voted to reduce the menhaden harvest by as much as 37 percent compared with 2010 levels after a review found the species had been overfished and needed to rebuild.
Millions of pounds of menhaden are caught along the Atlantic Seaboard each year, most by Omega Protein, a company that grinds it and reduces it to fish meal and oil that goes into fertilizer, feed for livestock and farmed fish, pet food and even dietary supplements. But menhaden — which is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and is also known as bunker or pogy, depending where you live — is also an ecological building block, serving as a crucial food for larger fish like tuna, striped bass and bluefish, as well as birds and marine mammals.
“There’s really not much in the ocean that is as healthy to eat, pound for pound, as menhaden,” said Peter Baker, director of Northeast fisheries at the Pew Environment Group, which supported the catch reduction. “If these other species don’t have menhaden in their diet it becomes less nutritious and they’re more susceptible to disease.”
–The New York Times
DNR allows Lutsen resort to keep pumping
The owners of Lutsen Mountain ski area on Minnesota’s North Shore can pump water out of the Poplar River to make snow for skiers this winter even though the river has dropped to unusually low levels.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Lutsen Mountain Corp. can pump water from the drought-stricken river because the alternative, shutting off the water supply, could force the ski hill to close.
The issue became public in May when the News Tribune first reported the ski hill had been in violation of its water use permit for years. It is the only commercial use of designated trout stream water in the state in winter.
DNR officials last spring appeared to be moving toward requiring the company to instead pump its snowmaking water from Lake Superior — more than a mile away — a move the company said is too expensive.
The 2011 Legislature then intervened, stopping the DNR from cracking down on Lutsen and allowing the company to pump up to 150 million gallons per year, about 2 million gallons per day during the snowmaking season, out of the Poplar River that runs through the ski area.
–The Duluth News Tribune
Drought may deter spring floods
In much of Minnesota, the last three autumns brought vivid color and a lot of talk about spring flooding to come. This year — not so much of either, thanks to a drought.
In addition to reducing the potential for calamitous flooding, dry conditions have also helped farmers and public agencies zip through their chore lists.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has been restoring shoreline plantings in areas along Lake Minnetonka where recent high water kept them from taking root. The district also has been able to carry out some controlled burns of unwanted vegetation and dredging of silted-in retention ponds, said spokeswoman Telly Mamayek.
–The Star Tribune
The energy and expense of quenching California’s thirst
The aqueduct stretched across the desert like an endless blue freight train, carrying its cargo of Colorado River water to a concrete building at the base of a craggy-faced mountain.
Inside the plant, adorned with the seal of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a set of massive pumps hoisted the water 441 feet high, disgorging it into a tunnel and the final leg of its journey from the Arizona border to a Riverside County reservoir.
The Julian Hinds Pumping Plant is one of the hydraulic hearts of California’s vast water supply system, built early in the last century to push water from where it is to where it isn’t, no matter how many hundreds of miles of desert, mountains and valleys are in the way.
Defying geography on such a grand scale takes energy. A lot of it. It’s also expensive. And it’s going to become more so, driving up Southern California water rates and forcing the region to consider more mundane sources closer to home.
The volume of water propelled uphill on one recent day at Hinds weighed the equivalent of more than four World Trade Center towers and required six 12,500-horsepower motors driven by electricity, much of it from Hoover and Parker dams on the Colorado.
–The Los Angeles Times
Comment sought on Carver, Bevens creeks
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on a draft report concerning pollution in Carver and Bevens creeks, located west of the Twin Cities metro area, in the Lower Minnesota River watershed. According to the report, the creeks carry excess sediment and other fine material that limit the growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and fish. The sediment comes primarily from erosion in the stream channel and runoff from the surrounding landscape. The report calls for reducing sediment in Carver Creek by as much as 86 percent and up to 83 percent in Bevens Creek.
The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load report or TMDL, is part of a nationwide effort to clean up pollution in lakes and streams. The purpose of the report is to assess conditions in the impaired water bodies, identify the sources of the problem, and specify changes needed to return water conditions to an acceptable level. After reviewing comments from the public and obtaining approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the MPCA and other local organizations will work out a specific plan for improving water quality in Carver and Bevens creeks.
The draft report may be viewed at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/veiz965. For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak (e-mail Chris.Zadak@state.mn.us ; phone 651-757-2837), MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., Saint Paul, MN 55155. Comments must be received in writing at the MPCA office by Dec. 14.
–MPCA News Release
Bird Conservancy criticizes feral cats
Are feral cats becoming an invasive species?
You might think so from the letter the American Bird Conservancy sent to 50 mayors, including Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak.
Specifically, the ABC wants the mayors to stop encouraging trap-neuter-release programs that are widely used by animal shelters and other animal protection organizations, including Animal Ark in Minnesota. The idea is that feral cats, which cannot be turned into domestic pets, are caught, neutered, and then released back into the wild. Often, they congregate in “cat colonies,” especially if a cat-loving person puts out food for them.
The programs were designed in an effort to control the explosive growth of feral cats, usually the offspring of domestic cats that have been born and raised outdoors with little or no social contact with humans. They are, in effect, wild animals that continue to breed more wild animals. Female cats start breeding at six months. One cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in just seven years.
There are now an estimated 95 million outdoor and feral cats in the United States that kill at least 532 million birds, and perhaps more, the ABC says. They are far more common in the south, but the numbers in Minnesota are growing, according to local animal shelters, because our winters are warmer.
–The Star Tribune
Park Service blocks water bottle ban
Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.
Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.
A spokesman for the National Park Service, David Barna, said it was Jon Jarvis, the top federal parks official, who made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information.” He added that “reducing and eliminating disposable plastic bottles is one element of our green plan. This is a process, and we are at the beginning of it.”
–The New York Times
First the good news: It’s all good
There seemed to be no doubt that Mike Adams was a productive journalist, even if his beat was a bit obscure: the Central Basin Municipal Water District.
In recent months, he churned out more than 20 stories on the water wholesaler based in southeast Los Angeles. He wrote about recycled water that kept the grass green on street medians and parks. About the computer system a college used to irrigate its landscaping. About a water-saving youth soccer field.
The only mystery, really, was Adams himself. The Times could not find evidence he exists.
Adams’ stories were published on the website News Hawks Review after Central Basin agreed to pay up to nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money to public relations consultant Ed Coghlan. Under the deal, Coghlan said he would produce promotional stories about the district that would be indexed on Google News.
–The Los Angeles Times
UM has role in $25 million biomass research
Can a single biofuel production system reduce water and nutrient runoff from farm fields, cut down on soil erosion and turn a profit for the farmers who grow it? University of Minnesota scientists and Extension Master Gardeners will explore this possibility as part of a new, five-year, $25 million multistate grant.
Funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, nationwide research will focus on harvesting perennial grasses—mostly native species such as bluestem and switchgrass—and using the biomass as a feedstock for a biofuel process known as pyrolysis. Interdisciplinary research teams from eight states will explore the best ways to grow, harvest, transport and distribute the biomass and biofuel.
In Minnesota, research efforts will center on the use of biochar, a nutrient-rich solid and co-product of the pyrolysis process, as a soil amendment. To help determine biochar’s viability as a commercial product for home gardeners, Master Gardeners will test its ability to increase productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. They will design, plant, maintain and collect data from research plots at three Minnesota sites: the St. Paul Campus Display Garden, the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center, and the Landscape Arboretum. In addition, Master Gardeners will share preliminary findings and results at horticulture days, open houses, field days and other public events statewide.
—University of Minnesota News Release
California suit alleges pollution
California fishing and conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing farmers of illegally discharging polluted groundwater into tributaries of the San Joaquin River.
The suit is the latest move in a decades-long battle over selenium-tainted farmland and agricultural drainage problems on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The suit claims the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority allowed contaminated groundwater to co-mingle with irrigation drain water.
The mixture was then discharged without a federal wastewater permit into a canal and a slough that feed to the San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay-Delta, the lawsuit states.
–The Associated Press
Pollution found near ‘fracking’ wells
As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residents have long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.
A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.
‘Fracking’ gets preliminary OK in Texas study
The University of Texas Energy Institute has released preliminary results from a study that finds no direct link between hydraulic fracturing and reports of groundwater contamination.
A team made up of experts from UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, Bureau of Economic Geology, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, School of Law and College of Communication are conducting the study.
“From what we’ve seen so far, many of the problems appear to be related to other aspects of drilling operations, such as poor casing or cement jobs, rather than to hydraulic fracturing, per se,” Dr. Charles ‘Chip’ Groat, said the project’s leader, in a news release.
–Texas Business Journal
USGS: No trend in earthquakes
The magnitude-7.2 earthquake on Oct. 23 in Turkey and the magnitude-9.0 quake that impacted Japan in March are leading many to wonder if these events are part of a larger global trend toward giant earthquakes. After combing through 110 years’ worth of global seismic records, USGS seismologist Dr. Andrew Michael concluded that the recent increase in the number of large earthquakes may just reflect random occurrence.
Using three distinct statistical tests, Dr. Michael studied whether variations in the number of large, global earthquakes could be explained as a random fluctuation, once local aftershocks of the large earthquakes are taken into account. In a recently published paper, he explains how he tested whether the intervals between earthquakes have followed a clustering pattern that would be suggestive of quakes related to each other. He then developed a specific earthquake-triggering statistical model to determine if global seismicity increased after the largest earthquakes, examining the effect of the largest earthquakes on smaller ones. Finally, he tested for clustering in the energy released by earthquakes.
In each test, he found that the apparent clustering among large earthquakes can be described as a random fluctuation and cannot be used to predict future events.
–USGS News Release