Ethanol plant faces pollution penalty

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.

Corn Plus ethanol plant penalized – again
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Corn Plus will pay a $310,000 civil penalty to resolve violations of the air-quality permit issued to the company’s ethanol-production facility in Winnebago.

The violations, occurring from 2008 to 2010, were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its air quality permit.

A staff inspection in August 2009 found violations of Minnesota laws and rules as well as permit conditions. The inspection confirmed that some of the violations were not previously reported to the MPCA as required by the facility’s permit. MPCA staff requested more monitoring records and discovered many repeated data patterns that indicated Corn Plus had falsified up to a year’s worth of monitoring data, primarily relating to operations of the facility’s air-emissions-control equipment.

In March 2011, staff from the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency interviewed the facility’s environmental manager and requested more monitoring records. The facility was issued a grand jury subpoena at that time by the EPA. After reviewing the records, EPA and MPCA staff identified more potentially false data from 2010.

Last month, Corn Plus was charged by the EPA with a felony for falsifying information about its pollution-control equipment. These actions follow an $891,000 settlement with the MPCA in January 2010, and another criminal charge from the EPA in late 2009 for water-quality violations.
–MPCA News Release

New UN report cites degraded land and water resources
Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report..

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”

Today a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report says.

No region is immune: systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.
—Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN news release

Photo contest seeks signs of winter
Calling all Photographers…. Check out Freshwater Society’s Facebook page and submit your best photo of the first signs of winter! Winning photos will be published in the 2013 Weatherguide Environment Calendar! The deadline for submission is Dec. 31.

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Darby Nelson, a Freshwater Society board member, will talk about  and read excerpts from his new book, For Love of Lakes,  in a book-signing event at 6 p.m.  Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Student Center Theater on the University of  Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Read a Freshwater article about the book and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it.

Minnehaha Creek district eyes expanded role
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District is about to make what it says is one of its most important—and potentially expensive—decisions in recent memory.

Citing internal study and consensus that invasive species are the No. 1 threat to the watershed’s long-term vitality and health, the district is considering taking a lead role in the fight to prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers—something that has historically been the Department of Natural Resource’s responsibility.

“We would like to see the DNR take a very strong, very active role in this, but we don’t feel the state has the resources to protect our resources—nor do they have the staff,” said Eric Evenson, the MCWD’s top administrator.
 –Minnetonka Patch

Rare isotope tracks ancient aquifer
The Nubian Aquifer, the font of fabled oases in Egypt and Libya, stretches languidly across 770,000 square miles of northern Africa, a pointillist collection of underground pools of water migrating, ever so slowly, through rock and sand toward the Mediterranean Sea.

The aquifer is one of the world’s oldest. But its workings — how it flows and how quickly surface water replenishes it — have been hard to understand, in part because the tools available to study it have provided, at best, a blurry image. Now, to solve some of the puzzles, physicists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne  National Laboratory in Illinois have turned to one of the rarest particles on earth: an elusive radioactive isotope usually ricocheting around in the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour.
The New York Times

Budget collapse leaves winners, losers
Count pheasant hunters as among those likely disappointed that Congress is plowing under that new farm bill. Biofuel producers, on the other hand, may be happy to see the bill go.

Those groups were among the winners and losers in the hastily crafted bill that the House and Senate agriculture committees had planned to stuff in a deficit-reduction plan that a congressional supercommittee was charged with writing. The supercommittee gave up trying to agree on the plan, leaving the agriculture committees in Congress to start over on the farm legislation.

The agriculture committee leaders did all their work on the bill behind closed doors and never released an actual text of the legislation.

But Pheasants Forever, an advocacy group, successfully lobbied the lawmakers for provisions that would have steered conservation funding to landowners who preserved grassy areas as habitat for the game bird.

The ethanol industry was dismayed to find out that the bill, according to a summary that leaked out, would have blocked the Agriculture Department from subsidizing the installation of service station pumps that can dispense higher blends of the biofuel. The legislation also contained no money for subsidizing farmers who provided crop residues and other new feedstocks for making biofuels.
–The Des Moines Register

Septic systems threaten Cape Cod waters
When the tide rolls out, the beaches on the west coast of Cape Cod often turn a shade of lime green, with splotches of a slimy substance that locals say resembles black mayonnaise and smells like rotten eggs.

In the warmer months, a film of algae spreads through the harbor in Cataumet and the opaque waters turn a copper color, veiling the little life left on the seabed.

“There can be so much algae in the water that they look like huge lily pads, like you can walk across them on the water,’’ said Scott Zeien, owner of Kingman Yacht Center, who has been swimming and sailing off this Bourne village since he was a child. “It’s really gross. It looks like a bad day on the Mississippi River – not a place anyone would want to swim.’’

The problem, a growing body of evidence suggests, stems from the dramatic rise in development on the Cape and the lack of sufficient waste-disposal systems. The remnants of sewage from septic tanks of the more than 200,000 full-time Cape residents is seeping into the ground water and polluting estuaries, bays, and other bodies of water from Bourne to Orleans.
–The Boston Globe

Add hairy crazy ant to the list of invasives
America is under siege — not by a foreign power, but by invasive species slowly working their way across the nation, leaving a sometimes-devastated and often-changed landscape in their wake.

Just as Dutch elm disease from Asia removed an iconic tree from the American landscape beginning in the 1940s, the emerald ash borer may conquer the ash tree in coming years. West Nile virus from Africa killed 57 Americans last year. And work crews often encounter giant Burmese pythons in South Florida.

The latest addition to the list of non-native creepy-crawlies is the hairy crazy ant. The tiny foragers are believed to have come from South America. They first got to the Caribbean in the late 19th century and are working their way through Florida and the Southeast. First discovered nine years ago in Texas by exterminator Tom Rasberry, the ants are now also in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va.
–USA Today